India assess World Cup buildup against depleted champions

Five-match ODI series between home side and Australia will start from March 2

India assess World Cup buildup against depleted champions PHOTO: AFP

The importance of the one-day series against Australia beginning on Saturday is not lost on Virat Kohli's India as they gauge their World Cup preparations against the reigning champions in their final series before the showpiece event.

India capped their memorable tour of Australia, where they registered their first ever Test series victory Down Under, by claiming the three-match ODI series 2-1 in January.

Chief selector M.S.K. Prasad told reporters last month that most of the players in the current India side pick themselves and it was a matter of finalising a couple of slots before the World Cup in England and Wales.

The five-match series against Australia is naturally important for a handful of Indian players who want to nail down their places with solid performances against the tourists who have slipped to sixth in world rankings.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant has leapfrogged Dinesh Karthik to be Mahendra Singh Dhoni's understudy behind the stumps, but needs to prove his maturity against Australia to make the flight to England.

"The progression of Rishabh in the last one year is phenomenal across the formats," Prasad, a former stumper himself, told ESPNcricinfo recently, describing the exciting 21-year-old's form as a ‘healthy headache’. "What we actually felt is he needs a bit of maturity now, gain more experience. That is the reason we have included him in India A series wherever possible."

Lokesh Rahul has been thrown a lifeline despite a slump in form and a brief suspension he incurred for inappropriate comments on a television show. The opener impressed with scores of 50 and 47 in the T20I matches against Australia.

"I got some time off from international cricket, so I could come back here and reflect on what wasn't going right for me," said Rahul, who remains optimistic of securing a back-up role to first choice opening pair Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan.

Australia play an ODI series against Pakistan in United Arab Emirates later this month but coach Justin Langer will hope the series against world number two India will provide answers to many questions.

Finch's lack of form at the top of the batting order has been a concern for a team who eagerly await the return of Steve Smith and David Warner from ball-tampering suspensions which expire at the end of the month.

"We have just got to keep giving him plenty of care and support. We know he'll come good," Langer said, throwing his weight behind Finch.

Usman Khawaja did reasonably well in the home ODI series against India, and while he may not match the strike rate of some of his team mates, Finch's poor form means Australia will keep an eye on how the left-hander fares against India.

Among others, batsman Peter Handscomb will look to prove his prowess against spin while quick Nathan Coulter-Nile will hope to stay on his feet through the series to shed his 'injury-prone' image.