India's T20 World Cup countdown begins against champions Australia

Rohit Sharma's team look to put disappointment of Asia Cup behind them in three-match T20 series at home

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Rohit Sharma's India are expected to know exactly where they stand in T20 cricket when they take on world champions Australia in a three-match series that begins in Mohali on Tuesday.

After a frustrating Asia Cup in the UAE, where they failed to make it to the final, India face more questions about the make-up of their playing XI, with the fitness of key T20 players the biggest concern.

Virat Kohli returned to form in sensational style in the UAE, cracking his first T20 and 71st international century. Captain Sharma showed positive intent in the four games he played, but the rest of the batsmen blew hot and cold on difficult surfaces while batting first.

Captain Rohit said Kohli will be an option at the top of the order but clarified that KL Rahul, who struggled in the UAE, remained the first choice as his opening partner.

"It's always nice to have options available, it is very important when you go to a tournament like the World Cup. You want that flexibility," Sharma said. "It's an option for us, since we have not taken a third opener, he can obviously open.

"I don't think we are going to experiment a lot for that position. KL Rahul will play the World Cup and will be our opener."

Bowling was an even bigger concern in the absence of pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah. The experienced Bhuvneshwar Kumar conceded 19 and 14 runs in the penultimate over of the chase during crunch games against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which resulted in defeats and India's exit from the tournament.

Leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal and all-rounder Hardik Pandya were hit and miss, while the team also lost Ravindra Jadeja to a serious knee injury that also ruled him out of the World Cup.

On paper, India have a more balanced squad for the series against Australia. Bumrah and fellow T20 specialist seamer Harshal Patel are back in the team, providing much-needed control and wicket-taking edge with the new ball and in the death overs.

However, the team balance has suffered after Jadeja's injury. Bumrah and Patel have just regained fitness, which will keep the management on the edge. They tried to add some experience to the attack in the form of veteran seamer Mohammed Shami, who was not even part of the T20 set up this year.

He has now contracted Covid-19, and been replaced by another experienced quick Umesh Yadav, who last played a T20I in February 2019.

Australia, meanwhile, will play with a considerably weakened side. They will be without all-rounders Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis, who are injured. Left-arm quick Mitchell Starc is recovering from a niggle, while opener David Warner has been rested from the tour.

The three-match series will allow the Aussies to blood in T20 specialist Tim David.

David, who was raised in Western Australia, burst into the spotlight in the Pakistan Super League last season and has become hot property as a hard-hitting finisher in global leagues.

David, 26, played 14 T20s for Singapore and is expected to make his Australia debut on Tuesday.

"It's great to see Tim David get his chance," fast bowler Pat Cummins said. "He's been right up there with the best in the world.

"Batting in the middle order of T20 cricket is a really tough spot. You see most of the runscorers opening, or batting top of the order. It's really hard to be consistent coming in when there's spin bowlers or at the end of the innings. I think he's been fantastic.

"If he gets his chance, hopefully he can continue doing what he's been doing in the domestic leagues around the world. I think he's an X-factor. He just goes about it slightly differently so look forward to it."

After the series against India, Australia will return home to play West Indies and England to continue their preparations for their T20 World Cup title defence in their own backyard with the tournament kicking off in less than a month.

Updated: September 19, 2022, 12:01 PM
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