India were indoors in Friday, rain ruining their morning practice session at The Oval and Australia were just making their way to the capital after getting past West Indies at Trent Bridge. All was quiet on the western front, but you can be sure both teams were already thinking about each other, given how big their encounter is likely to be.
On a weekend, in London, India v Australia. The Oval will be a sea of blue once more, but unlike in Southampton, where there was negligible support for South Africa in the stands, Australia will not be completely blanked out.
And, India will know this is not the only difference between their first match and the second. South Africa have been weakened by injury, their batting is brittle and even off the field, controversy dogs them, AB de Villiers making his presence felt even in absence. Australia, however, are on the ascendency. The return of Steve Smith and David Warner just in time for the World Cup has meant they are a team once again ready to boss a tournament they have won five times.
In their match against West Indies, Australia found themselves in all sorts of trouble at 79 for 5, but Smith (73) and Nathan Coulter-Nile (92) pushed them to 288, and from there the old instinct kicked in and Australia found a way to win.
Mitchell Starc took 5 for 46, and still ended up not being the Man of the Match, and he will the main threat to India’s batsmen. Few can resist pitching this as a clash between Starc and Jasprit Bumrah—and that is a box-office match-up — but, in cricket, it is always batsman v bowler, not bowler v bowler.
Starch already has one eye on India. “We’ll be there the day before and have a look at conditions. For the bowling group, for us it’s to continue talking about what we do really well and what we can control. We know they’re a fantastic team. They’ve got depth in their batting, they’re strong throughout,” said Starc. “Virat is obviously one of their key batsmen. Rohit scored a hundred, as well, so we’ll have a chat about them as a bowling group, but at the same time we’ve got to remember what we can control, and that’s — I guess that’s our strengths and where we want to bowl to the conditions, as well.”
For Kohli, the first game was a chance to tick some boxes and test the level of preparation of the team in match conditions, given that they had an extended rest, training and non-match schedule ahead of their first match. With South Africa not pushing India as much as they might have liked, the Australia game will be a better barometer of where India stand.
“I think it was a professional effort from us,” Kohli said after the game against South Africa. “It was a low-scoring game, not the highest of totals you will see in one-day cricket nowadays. That was because of the way the pitch was throughout the course of the game and I think, from that point of view, we were very professional with the new ball in the middle overs, the spinners picking up five wickets between them, was outstanding who finished well.”
But, even with the conditions providing more of a challenge than the opposition there was enough Kohli could take from the game. “I think overall we are pretty happy with how we played. Starting off well is always an important thing and we got together nicely as a team in the first half on the field,” said Kohli. “It is very important to create that energy and we were able to do that in the first ten and from there, we really built the game nicely and finished it off in a professional manner.”
Finishing well in their first match was essential, but equally this is just the beginning of a long campaign for India. The Australia match can’t come soon enough, and the one thing both teams will be hoping for is that the London weather holds just enough for them to get a decent match in. The forecast, at the moment, is for intermittent showers, and some searing pace from Starc and Bumrah.
This article first appeared in the Economic Times