Melbourne A Test series whitewash and a Twenty20 loss later, India are back in Melbourne – from where things started getting awfully wrong for the visitors since the Boxing Day Test. Still licking the wounds inflicted by five embarrassing defeats in Australia so far, India will strive for their first win in the second Twenty20 international against the hosts on Friday.
There's nothing more motivating than a win, and with a tri-series against Australia and Sri Lanka to follow, India desperately need one before they play the ODIs as world champions. But Australia are in no mood to take their foot off the visitors' neck, so it's India who need to find answers against a team that hasn't done anything wrong this summer.
George Bailey, Australia's new T20 captain, couldn't have asked for a better start to his international career – though he didn't have much to do on Wednesday - when his team won by 31 runs to take a 1-0 lead in the two-match series.
David Warner's switch-hitting, Matthew Wade's blitzkrieg and David Hussey's late assault on Wednesday confirmed that there is enough meat in the Australian bats. And with debutant Xavier Doherty and James Faulkner, the hosts' bowling seems to be pretty well organised, especially when you add to that the experience of Brett Lee and Brad Hogg.
But India are now as much worried about their bowling as their batting, which has been miserable throughout the Australian summer. Praveen Kumar couldn't impress on his return from injury and Vinay Kumar was at best okay, while Ravindra Jadeja was taken apart with ease. However, the biggest worry remains India's premier spin option R Ashwin, as the Australians seem to have sorted him out. Ashwin – who replaced Harbhajan Singh and went to Australia as MS Dhoni's second best bowler after Zaheer Khan – has disappointed on the tour so far. His nine wickets in three Tests at an average of 62.70 were followed by a spell of 1 for 34 in the first Twenty20.
So in all likelihood we will see Irfan Pathan playing his first T20 since the ICC World Twenty20 in June 2009. And his all-round skills will do no harm to a team that is short on runs as well as wickets. It is also tough to see India fielding Zaheer, keeping in mind the gruelling tri-series that starts from Sunday. Vinay could make way for Irfan with India opting for three spinners again in Ashwin, Jadeja and Rahul Sharma.
In batting, India's opening act is turning into a migraine. Neither Gautam Gambhir nor Virender Sehwag has been among the runs in Australia, eventually leading to a middle-order collapse that breaks under pressure and relies heavily on Virat Kohli. Dhoni's 48 not out was welcome news but it turned out to be futile after another top-order failure, which is where the problem lies for India.
On that count, it once again will boil down to the success, or the lack of it, of the Indian batting as the ultra-limited format provides little leeway for the bowlers.
Australia: 1. David Warner, 2. Mathew Wade (wk), 3. Travis Birt, 4. David Hussey, 5. George Bailey (captain), 6. Mitchell Marsh, 7. Daniel Christian, 8. James Faulkner, 9. Brad Hogg, 10. Brett Lee, 11. Xavier Doherty.
India: 1. Virender Sehwag, 2. Gautam Gambhir, 3. Virat Kohli, 4. Suresh Raina, 5. Rohit Sharma, 6. MS Dhoni (captain/wk), 7. Irfan Pathan, 8. Ravindra Jadeja, 9. R Ashwin, 10. Praveen Kumar, 11. Rahul Sharma.