India won't ideally like to use it as an excuse, but ODIs are their No. 3 priority this year. Their opponents have come fully armed. The 10-wicket win in the series opener was not entirely unexpected. India were without Hardik Pandya and Bhvuneshwar Kumar, they were experimenting with their batting and playing their best ODI batsman out of position. Australia were clinical and near full strength. Not to mention they had won their previous ODI series in India too, without David Warner and Steven Smith, just before the World Cup.
ODIs might not be India's top priority right now, they might not be full strength, but they have celebrated long and hard the ODI series win in South Africa (Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock and AB de Villiers out, a greenhorn captaining) and the Test and ODI series win in Australia (Smith and Warner out). By the same token, if they don't manage to salvage this ODI series, it will hurt them equally. Any loss against Australia does that to Indian teams post 2001. Back-to-back home series losses will cause serious hurt.
In an attempt to salvage the series, India's conviction in their experiment will be tested. It is easy to say Virat Kohli should return to No. 3, but was the move such a failure? Kohli remains India's best bet in the middle order because his game possesses all the gears required in ODI cricket. It is perhaps KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan who can be faulted for getting out after getting in. One of them is a potential beneficiary of Kohli's move down. However, it is important to not see Kohli's move down a sacrifice for these two, but for the improvement of the middle order. Whether they are so clear-minded will be tested when the first wicket falls in Rajkot.
India will be hoping that their first wicket is also not the first wicket of the match: Australia's real test will arrive when they are defending with a wet ball against a very good chasing side in home conditions. That toss becomes all the more important when the visiting team is a proper match for the home team.
(last five completed matches)
In the spotlight
In the extremely short run, Rishabh Pant's concussion comes as a blessing in disguise: it opens the door for Kedar Jadhav, who can provide some much-needed balance and assurance to the bowling with the promise of his three-four overs. While Jadhav's batting numbers remain excellent, it is his fitness history and his age that prevents him from being a long-term prospect, especially with the next 50-over World Cup due in 2023. He will like to prove otherwise both with his runs and physical fitness.
With the big wicket of Virat Kohli, Adam Zampa now has a big bull's eye on his back. Kohli will be itching to have his own back, the way he did with Kesrick Williams in the limited-overs series earlier in the season. Will Zampa continue to capitalise on the slight weakness Kohli might have against legspin in the limited-overs game?
Jadhav is set to slot in with Rahul taking the keeping gloves. With no other allrounder in the squad, Ravindra Jadeja will continue keeping one of the wristspinners out. There is nothing in the Rajkot pitch to suggest three spinners should play. That leaves India a choice to make between Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. The batting order remains fluid.
India (possible): 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 KL Rahul (wk), 4 Virat Kohli (capt.), 5 Shreyas Iyer, 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Shardul Thakur, 9 Kuldeep Yadav/ Yuzvndra Chahal, 10 Mohammed Shami/ Navdeep Saini, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Australia have no reason to change their XI after outplaying India in all three departments. The only change could be to give Josh Hazlewood a game by resting one of the quick bowlers.
Australia (possible): 1 Aaron Finch (capt.), 2 David Warner, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Alex Carey (wk), 6 Ashton Turner, 7 Ashton Agar, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Kane Richardson, 11 Adam Zampa
Pitch and conditions
The Rajkot track is getting baked in the sun and was nicely rolled a day before the game. It looks like a flatter pitch compared to Wankhede, and the dry and hard surface is likely to yield a high-scoring game. With a bit of nip, the temperature may not cross 25-27 degrees during the day.
Stats and Trivia
India have now lost four straight ODIs to Australia at home. They have had only two worse home streaks against a particular team: five straight losses against Pakistan in 1999 and 2004, and against West Indies they lost 15 games in the 1980s with a break of just one win after the seventh loss.
It might not sound like a weakness on the face of it, but Kohli averages 72.26 against legspin in ODIs and takes 6.3 runs per every over of legspin. Against all wristspin the average improves to 74.4 and strike rate to 6.32 per over. So, as Zampa said in the press conference, the weakness might be only when legspin is brought on when he is new to the crease.
"We have spoken about this series and how big this series is, particularly after the disappointing end to the World Cup. We can achieve something pretty special here. It's going to be a big deal if we can get two away series wins in a row in India, so we have spoken about that briefly."
Adam Zampa on the prospect of Australia winning their second straight ODI series in India.
"Well it happens that (sometimes) you are not prepared. Well, the country was not prepared to see us collapsing in such situations but it is a part and parcel of the game. You have to take it in your stride and move forward."
Shreyas Iyer on where India stand right now.