India captain MS Dhoni and Australia skipper George Bailey at the ODI series trophy unveiling ceremony.
On a day Sachin Tendulkar booked every available space in sports media with his decision to retire, Yuvraj Singh confirmed Team India was firmly focused on the task at hand. A successful chase of 202 runs in the one-off T20, fashioned by Yuvraj's merciless 77*, has given Australia more than an idea about the enormity of the task facing them in the seven-match ODI series.
No. 1 ODI rank at stake seems just a selling gimmick when you see the make-up of the the two teams. On one side are the World Cup and Champions Trophy holders, with a stable of thoroughbred ODI horses. And on the other a team that has derby rookies who offer a good gambling price but not much chance of taking the money home.
Without regular skipper and their most reliable batsman Michael Clarke, and still in the limbo about how to fill the gaping hopes left behind by the exodus of stalwarts, the Aussie team resembles a company finding it tough to return to profit. But the competitive nature that defined Australia in their invincible days under Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting hasn't deserted them, which is why they remain a threat, though a somewhat subdued one.
No. 1 rank
When you see the numbers governing Australia's chances of reclaiming the No. 1 spot in ODIs, the possibility appears just mathematical.
India, the reigning No. 1 team, start the series with 123 ratings points as opposed to Australia's 115 in the second place. ICC's calculations that landed in various inboxes around the world suggest the visitors need to upset the hosts 6-1 to reach the top. On the other hand India need to win just two games in the seven-match series to stay No. 1.
After watching India bat in the T20 on Thursday, Australia can safely put those aspirations to rest.
No Clarke, no Lehmann
Australia are clearly feeling the absence of their premier batsman Clarke, which became apparent by the candid remark made by stand-in coach Steve Rixon, who has slipped into Darren Lehmann's seat to give his senior rest before the Ashes. George Bailey has been asked to lead the side thin on experience and fire power.
"You take Dhoni out, that probably answers your question," Rixon had said at the team's first media conference of the tour, when asked if Clarke's absence will matter.
It's amazing how different look the Indian ODI side wears with Yuvraj part of it. The Australians got the taste of that when he bludgeoned 8 fours and 5 sixes in his 35-ball 77* to lead India's T20 win.
India's World Cup hero has fought bigger challenges than those on the field of cricket, and looks in better frame - both physically and mentally - for his second innings for the country. And skipper MS Dhoni said the team will try to take pressure off him.
"What's important is for the individual to be expressive on the field, back himself, have belief in his talent. The kind of talent that he has got, ultimately that will show on the field. We will try to keep it as normal as possible and try to take the undue pressure off him and hopefully that will work," Dhoni had said.
Five of Australia's touring players were part of the Champions League Twenty20 that preceded the series. And there's been some talk in the Aussie corridors about that being an advantage, which showed in the batting of Glenn Maxwell (Mumbai Indians) in the T20 at Rajkot, though James Faulkner and Shane Watson (Rajasthan Royals) didn't impress and Mitchell Johnson (Mumbai Indians) warmed the dug-out.
"We have been fortunate to have five in the final [of the CLT20]. So to us, we are in a reasonable position as well. End result is, the guys who haven't been playing a lot of cricket, get them up to speed for the remaining...Once that happens, it's an even contest," Rixon had said.
Former Australia captain Ian Chappell termed the series as ill-timed, because it's been arranged just before the Ashes Down Under. But Bailey doesn't agree.
"I don't think his comments have any bearing on the team. I don't think he has been involved with the Australian cricket team in a very, very long time. I don't think his comments have any particular relevance to this group at all," the Aussie captain said.
No Aussie mind games
The Australian mind games that the cricket world has got so used to have surprisingly not made their appearance on this tour yet. But Bailey made a very good point when asked that question: "We have got enough challenges".
"We are very polite. I certainly think for Glenn [McGrath] and Shane [Warne], it was a way to challenge themselves. That was the way they got themselves fired up for the series. I think this group doesn't need to do that. We have got enough challenges," the skipper told media.
Change in timings
Though the BCCI didn't make any mention of it, it's probably the dew factor that prompted the board to prepone the match-timings by an hour. Under the revised timings, the first session will be played from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. and the second from 5:45 p.m. to 9:15 p.m.
Laxman picks India
Former India batsman VVS Laxman feels India have the "fire power" to beat the Aussies and are favourites to lift the trophy.
"There are a lot of talented cricketers in the Indian side who are eager to perform. The upcoming Australia series at home will be a good test for them. I think India are favourites to win the series. They have the fire power to do it," Laxman said.