| Team India players flaunt their new jersey, in Rajkot, on Wednesday. (PTI)
Rajkot: As India begin their international engagements after almost a two-month break, in the one-off T20 against Australia at the SCA Stadium on Thursday, the focus will be on comeback man Yuvraj Singh.
There’s no doubt Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men will aim to gain early momentum, ahead of the seven-match ODI series, against a relatively inexperienced Australian side, led by George Bailey.
Yuvraj, who last played for India in an ODI against England, in Dharamsala last January, was brought back after a series of fantastic batting performances for India A against West Indies A and a solid display for India Blue in the Challenger Series.
The left-hander scored 337 runs in five List A matches at an average of 67.40 with a highest score of 123 against the touring Caribbean side. He also scored a quick-fire 52 against West Indies A in a T20 game in Bangalore.
The T20 encounter, which is expected to set the tone for a gruelling season ahead, promises to be an exciting face-off, with Australia keen to test their young players before the return Ashes showdown at home.
The elements, though, could play spoilsport. It has been raining here for the past few days and the Met department has forecast more showers for Thursday.
The hosts, with most of their players having got into the groove for the long international season ahead by taking part in the Champions T20 League or by playing for India A, will enjoy the upper-hand.
The teams have met in seven previous T20 encounters, with Australia holding a slightly better record at 4-3.
India last played a T20 match against Pakistan in Ahmedabad in December. Yuvraj will be eager to prove a point. His fierce determination and self- belief have brought him back and he will be hungry to cement his place in the team.
Apart from his explosive batting, Yuvraj’s left-arm spin will also be handy in the shortest form of the game. Two Saurashtra players — all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja and left-arm pacer Jaydev Unadkat — are in the 15-member squad and would also look to excel in front of their home crowd.
Jadeja, who will be playing his first international T20 match at home, would be eager to be among the runs after a disappointing performance in the CLT20.
The No. 1 bowler in ODIs will look to recapture his form. But it’s unlikely that Unadkat will find a place in the playing XI.
The Indian batting looks very formidable. Openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have been in good form with fluent performances in the CLT20, while left-handed Suresh Raina has also been in good touch, amassing 221 runs for CSK in the tournament. Then there is the strong middle-order consisting Virat Kohli, Yuvraj and Dhoni.
The Indian pace attack appears balanced with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma bowling well in tandem, and the duo would look to make early inroads. Bhuvneshwar bowled India Blue to Challenger Series triumph with a four-wicket haul in the final. It is likely that off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin will get the nod along with leg-spinner Amit Mishra.
Australia, on the other hand, would be equally eager to start their campaign on a winning note.
The visitors, who were whitewashed 0-4 by the hosts in the Test series earlier this year, have been going through a tough time and is a team in transition, struggling to maintain consistency.
“The inexperience is one of our learning curves at the moment. We have to get past that. It is probably our weakness, however, it is also our strength. Youthful exuberance often can be very good when it comes to the final crunches,” coach Steve Rixon said ahead of the series. The Australian batting, however, looks a little weak.
Hard-hitting Aaron Finch, who holds the T20 world-record for hitting the fastest century, and the left-handed Phillip Hughes, who is yet to play in a T20 International, would have to provide a solid start.
Australia have also drafted in 21-year-old New South Wales opener Nic Maddinson.
Bailey has been leading the side in T20 since his debut against India in 2012, but the 31-year-old Tasmanian, who is ranked ninth in the ODIs, has just one half-century to his credit in 18 T20 matches. Four of their squad members — Shane Watson, James Faulkner, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Glenn Maxwell — played in the CLT20 final and a lot would be expected from them.
India (likely): Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma.
Australia (from): George Bailey, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Xavier Doherty, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin, Moises Henriques, Mitchell Johnson, Nic Maddinson, Glenn Maxwell, Clint McKay, Adam Voges.
Match starts: 7.30 pm.