Smith under pressure

For the first time in a long time, Smith goes into this series with his form in question.

Not only did Australia’s former captain struggle for runs in the IPL – 311 runs at 25.9 doesn’t do justice to his bad form through much of the tournament –  but he hasn’t made a significant contribution in ODI cricket for a long time.

Having made just 13, 20 and 14 in his last three 50-over matches last March, he missed the series victory over England in September with concussion. In his stead, Marcus Stoinis, Mitch Marsh and Alex Carey made decent contributions.

Smith should slot back into the team at No. 3 and is more than likely to come out of the other side of this sticky patch.

But a slow start to the series could see the microscope placed firmly on him, particularly with white-ball focus turning towards next year’s T20 World Cup – his least favourite format.

Maxwell must step up again

Smith is not the only star Australia feeling the heat.

Maxwell has explained away his poor return during the IPL – “it was just to do with the amount of time I had left in the game a lot of the time” – but there can be no denying that 108 runs and no sixes was not what Kings XI Punjab were looking for from their most expensive overseas player.

The 32-year-old can point at two match-winning contributions in the England series, too, but an average of 27.9 with the bat and no wickets with the ball in 13 ODIs since the beginning of the 2019 World Cup is still underwhelming.

It seems that, for too long, Maxwell has been a player who promises plenty but under-delivers.

With the next World Cup still three years away, this series is an ideal chance to impress upon everybody that he has the consistency, as well as ability, to remain in Australia’s thinking until then.

Kohli’s only time to shine

Kohli rather burst the bubble of excitement for the Test series between these two teams in December and January by announcing that he would only be playing in the first match before departing for the birth of his child.

Fortunately, he will still be involved throughout in his best format.

The India captain’s ODI average of 59.33 is, remarkably, only bettered by Ryan ten Doeschate of the Netherlands in the history of the game.

And he has recent history against Australia, too. He has passed 50 in five of his last eight 50-over innings against them, including four scores of 80+ and two centuries.

Considering Kohli’s nature, it is much more likely that he will be determined to make up for his early departure from Australia with runs in this series, than switch off.

India’s next generation

The 2020 IPL might well be remembered for the competition in which India’s new generation of batsmen announced themselves to the world.

And while fewer of them are in this India squad than might’ve been hoped – Devdutt Padikkal and Ishan Kishan, for example, miss out – there is still the opportunity for the integration of some fresher blood into the side in this series.

Shubman Gill is the youngest and least experienced batsman in the squad, with just two ODIs in early 2019 to his name. He was the 12th-highest run-scorer in the IPL and his classical style can translate well to 50-over cricket.

Mayank Agarwal may be 29, but there is a sense that his best years are ahead of him, too. He flew under the radar in the IPL due to the brilliance of opening partner KL Rahul, who is another member of this squad under the age of 30.

With Shreyas Iyer and Sanju Samson also involved, competition looks fierce as India look to finetune their succession plan for established names Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli.

The battle of the bowlers

This is a match-up between two sides stacked with world-class batsmen, but arguably the most intriguing element of this series is the battle of the seamers.

In Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc, Australia possess three of the top-10-ranked ODI bowlers. Starc, in particular, is spectacular on form.

But in Jasprit Bumrah, India possess arguably the greatest of them all. Though he is ranked at No. 2 behind Trent Boult, few would argue against his case as the best.

Bumrah will need some support from Mohammad Shami if the havoc he wreaks is to be converted into victories for India, while the visitors can also field an impressive array of spinners.

With such quality on show for both sides, this series is no certainty to be a run-fest.

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