India v Australia
Sunday 24 February, 13:30
King Kohli returns
India are rated as the No 2 side in the world. At No 1 are Pakistan. It might be a little insensitive, given the animosity between the two nations at the moment, to suggest India are motivated to usurp them but only a fool would reckon it is not a factor.
They're grateful, then, to Australia turning up for a two-match series to assist them in their quest for top spot. This is a team who have won only once in five attempts against India in India. And the hosts have the luxury of recalling well-rested pair Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah. KL Rahul is also recalled after his indiscretions.
It's not a full-strength India team, however. Kuldeep Yadav, their best spinner, is absent so Yuz Chahal will be expected to step up while Mayank Markande, the leggie, may be asked to be his deputy. And Hardik Pandya has been ruled out with a back problem. Sidd Kaul will operate as a new-ball partner for Bumrah with Bhuv Kumar also given time out.
Bash stars out in force
Big Bash form, as you would expect, has informed selection. The top-wicket-taker in the tournament, Kane Richardson, and the runscorer, D'Arcy Short, both get a chance to impress and try to force their way in World Cup reckoning.
It's a 16-man squad full of quality with the Bash fresh in the memory. Aaron Finch leads and he has a job trying to make sure the balance is right considering Marcus Stoinis, Alex Carey, Short and himself will all reckon they are worthy of an opening berth.
The smart move would be to open with Short and Stoinis as they reprise their successful Bash roles with Finch batting at No 3 followed by Glenn Maxwell and Shaun Marsh. It's at Nos 6 and 7 where it gets tricky. With no natural No 7 it is possible that Carey or Peter Handscomb might have to bat in territory which doesn't do them justice.
The pace-bowling department is rich, too. Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jhye Richardson, Pat Cummins, Jason Behrendorff and Richardson is good enough for two teams. They'll have to decide on three of those. Cummins looks a shoo-in at No 8 because of his batting ability. Adam Zampa and Nathan Lyon are the spin options. We expect only one to play.
Zampa happy on spinning wicket
There has been only one T20 international at Visakhapatnam. Sri Lanka were bowled out for just 82 in 2016 with Ravi Ashwin taking four wickets having opened the bowling. Three other wickets fell to spinners in that innings. There were seven IPL matches played there in the same year though. The first-innings scores in those matches (1-2 denote match won by side batting first or second, most recent first) read: 172-2/121-2/206-1/124-2/137-1/177-1.
The reputation for spin holds. Zampa took six wickets for Pune against Hyderabad, restricting them to that 137. They still lost, though.
Hosts home in a chase
India, as you would expect, are hot favourites at 1.574/7 with Australia 2.77/4. This seems fair enough considering Australia's record in the country. They may well look big and brash in the Bash, but wickets in India rather cut them down to size.
The toss could be key, though. Chasing is India's forte. It's 12 wins in 16 in the last two years. Australia are not too bad at it with nine wins in 15 although they are bang average at defending with three wins and three losses. Best they bat second, then.
If Australia can restrict India to under 170 then they are bang in the game and the 2.77/4 would have represented a decent trade. It all depends on whether India are complacent, as they were when the sides met Down Under recently and they slipped up in game one.
Value all over the shop
It is unusual to get Kohli at a price which is wrong. It is almost unheard of to bet Rohit Sharma at a rick at the same time, too. But that is the situation for game one. Kohli is 5/2 for top India runscorer with Rohit 16/5. On our two-year ratings we have them at 7/4 and 12/5 respectively. Rahul is also a fancy at 4s because we have him at 3s. An embarrassment of riches. Rohit may be the smartest bet, though, because we absolutely know he will open and get most opportunity.
It would be dumb of Australia not to unleash Stoinis as opener. So the 11/2 that Sportsbook offer is tempting indeed. In the three-match series in November he batted at Nos 5 and 7 with Finch and Short opening. India only got Stoinis out once. Finch and Short both averaged 18.