Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah and Rohit Sharma are three of the world’s top five ODI cricketers. They delight in playing Australia.
That Indian trio are the key to the ODI series against Australia starting today.
Along with England’s Jos Buttler and Australian quick Mitchell Starc, Kohli, Bumrah and Sharma make up my five most valuable ODI cricketers.
Kohli is the top ODI batsman of all time, Bumrah is the best bowler in the world across all formats, and Rohit is arguably the greatest opener in ODI history, with 6799 runs at 58 in that position, including 26 tons.
What is even scarier is that all three of them patently enjoy facing Australia. Rohit has an incredible 2072 runs at 62 against Australia in ODIs, while Kohli has made eight tons against the Aussies from just 35 innings.
The battle between that pair of batting legends and Australia’s big three quicks – Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood – is enough to make any cricket fan salivate.
It is a long time since Australia fielded a full-strength pace attack in an ODI series against India. When Australia hosted India for a three-match ODI series last year, all of Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood were missing.
In the following five-match series in India, which Australia fought back to win 3-2, only Cummins played out of that trio.
Cummins was phenomenal in that series in India, taking 14 wickets at 15 in what is the finest performance in his very good ODI career. For the Aussie quick, 2019 was his best year in this format as he took 31 wickets at 21.
In India last year he challenged both Rohit and Kohli with the bounce he was able to extract from fairly benign pitches. Cummins also made clever use of cutters and slower balls, which grip more on dry Indian surfaces than they do in Australia.
Australia’s premier all-format quick no doubt benefits from his exposure to these conditions across his three seasons in the IPL. Cummins shapes as Australia’s best option against Kohli. But it will be Starc and Hazlewood who will get first crack at Rohit with the new ball.
This will be a great test for Starc, who is in career-best form with the red ball and was the standout bowler in last year’s World Cup. The left-armer has an incredible ODI record, with 172 wickets at 21, but has had minimal impact against Kohli and Rohit.
He has never dismissed Kohli from eight matches against him, and has got Rohit just once from six matches. Yet both of those batsmen can be vulnerable to late shape back into the right-handers, as we saw in the World Cup semi-final last year when Kohli was trapped LBW second ball by New Zealand left-armer Trent Boult.
Starc’s remodeled action has earned him greater accuracy and more consistent swing this summer, so it will be intriguing to watch how that affects his white-ball efforts.
Hazlewood looms as the best match-up for Rohit. The opener can get caught out early in his innings trying to run good length deliveries down to third man, a stroke that is riskier against a bowler like Hazlewood who earns such steepling bounce.
Yet the match-up I am most excited to watch is Bumrah versus Australia’s best ODI batsman, David Warner. Bumrah is neck and neck with Starc as the best ODI bowler in the world.
While Starc is a greater threat with the new ball due to his extra pace, bounce and swing, Bumrah is the most accurate and frugal white-ball quick around. In an era of extremely high-scoring in ODIs, his career economy rate of 4.49 runs per over is jaw-dropping.
Bumrah is so consistently economical that in his past 40 ODIs, only twice has he conceded more than 60 runs in a match. Many teams now seek to merely play out his overs and try to deny him wickets, content for Bumrah to take 1-45 from his ten overs.
If any of the Australians go after Bumrah early on, it will be Warner. The left-hander’s opening partner Aaron Finch has had a nightmare against Bumrah in the past so Warner may seek to attack him to try to take the pressure off his mate.
Yet Bumrah also shapes as a very tough opponent for Warner due to his immense skill at operating from around the wicket. No right-armer in world cricket bowls better to left-handers from that angle than Bumrah.
The Indian can swing the ball both ways, and can also get deliveries to seam back into or away from left-handers. He will threaten Warner’s inside and outside edges, just as English seamer Stuart Broad did with spectacular success in the last Ashes.
If one of Finch or Warner falls early then we’ll get the privilege of watching Steve Smith against Bumrah.
That pair are headed for a colossal clash next summer when India return to Australia for a blockbuster four-Test series.
This ODI series will give us a preview of some of the epic match-ups we will during that much-awaited contest.