File photo of Yuvraj Singh batting during the 2011 World Cup quarter-final between India and Australia. (AFP)
The lone Twenty20 between India and Australia at Rajkot on Thursday will serve as a perfect appetizer before the main course - the seven-match ODI series, starting on Sunday. And choice of the venue to kick off a much-awaited tour couldn't have been better as the spectators will throng Rajkot's Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium, where runs and entertainment are expected to flow in equal measure - provided it doesn't rain.
The only match staged at the venue, an ODI between India and England at the beginning of this year, yielded 641 runs with just 13 wickets going down, and Thursday's contest is expected to deliver a similar run-feast.
It would be fair to say that India look a much-balanced outfit with all their players coming into the series with good match practice. Most of them were part of the four IPL franchises that played the Champions League Twenty 20, while others oiled themselves against West Indies A or in the NKP Salve Challenger Trophy.
Yuvraj Singh's return adds depth to the team's batting, but it will also pose some selection headache for the think-tank led by coach Duncan Fletcher and MS Dhoni.
India's top-order wears a settled look with Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma set to open the innings, followed by Virat Kohli at No. 3. Now should India swap Yuvraj with Suresh Raina at No. 4? It would be a hard decision for Dhoni as Raina has been his preferred choice in the absence of Yuvraj and the 26-year old's form for CSK recently was also quite good. But Yuvraj has also regained his touch since his return from a tough fitness regime in France. In fact, the southpaw has been in a rich vein of form, scoring a century and three half-centuries in four of the six limited-overs matches he played to script his comeback. If India decide to include both, though it will add more depth to their batting, their bowling resources may get depleted.
Both Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are set to make the cut, with Yuvraj and Raina providing more options to Dhoni with their part-time spin. Bhuvneshwar Kumar was the pick of the bowlers in the Challenger Trophy, while Ishant Sharma also did well for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the CLT20. Should they go in with another spinner - Amit Mishra - or add strength to their pace attack by playing one from the trio of Vinay Kumar, Jaydev Unadkat and Mohammed Shami? Going by Dhoni's unconventional ways, difficult to tell who he picks - an extra pacer or another spinner.
Australia's batting does look brittle in comparison to India's, although Adam Voges has claimed that it isn't. Allrounder Shane Watson is the most experienced player in the squad with 165 ODIs and 38 T20 internationals, while skipper George Bailey has represented them in 38 ODIs and 18 T20s.
They will be heavily dependent on Watson and Aaron Finch to provide them a good start that can be built upon by the inexperienced middle order led by Bailey and Voges. Allrounder Glenn Maxwell displayed his attacking instincts in the CLT20 final for Mumbai Indians and the visitors will want him and Brad Haddin to propel the side to good totals. It's also highly likely that Australia will give debut to talented 21-year-old Nic Maddinson, who is rated very highly in domestic cricket Down Under.
Australia should get some confidence from the fact that five members - Watson, James Faulkner, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Maxwell - of the current squad participated in the CLT20 recently. Coulter-Nile outplayed Johnson with his accuracy for Mumbai Indians, and Australia may play him along with other pacers - Clint McKay and Faulkner. Xavier Doherty and Maxwell will provide the spinning option for Bailey, with Voges also capable of rolling his arm over to provide left-arm spin. Despite a low-key CLT20, Watson will hold the key for the Aussies with his all-round abilities.
If the grey clouds remain at a distance at Rajkot - 60 per cent chances of rain predicted on Thursday, the cricket-loving public of the city should get their money's worth with a cracking match.
India: 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 6 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Ravichandran Ashwin, 9 Amit Mishra/Vinay Kumar, 10 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 11 Ishant Sharma
Australia: 1 Shane Watson, 2 Aaron Finch, 3 Nic Maddinson, 4 George Bailey (capt), 5 Adam Voges, 6 Glenn Maxwell, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Nathan Coulter-Nile, 9 James Faulkner/Mitchell Johnson, 10 Clint McKay, 11 Xavier Doherty