India start WC run-up on wrong foot

Pandya, Rahul suspended on the eve of first ODI against Australia; visitors still favourites

Sydney, January 11 

After the high of the first-ever Test series win Down Under, India would look to put aside the unexpected controversy involving Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul and fine tune their World Cup preparations in the three-match ODI series against an under fire Australia, beginning here on Saturday. Ahead of the start of the limited-overs series, all-rounder Hardik Pandya and top-order batsman Lokesh Rahul provided a big distraction for the Indian team by making “inappropriate” comments on women at a television chat show.  The duo has been suspended pending an inquiry and told to return home from the tour. 

The scandal, though, is unlikely to have much impact on the team and its preparations for the World Cup, thanks to the depth of India’s talent pool. With the top-order combination unlikely to see changes barring injury, Rahul had slim chances of getting a look in. Pandya provides crucial balance to the side an all-rounder but India have an equally good option in Ravindra Jadeja. 

Eye on World Cup 

The series is a good chance to get the combination right for the much-awaited World Cup to be played in England. The top-order looks settled with the likes of Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Ambati Rayudu, followed by MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav in the middle. 

Much of the focus, though, will be on MS Dhoni. The World Cup-winning skipper has managed just 275 runs in his last 20 ODIs at an average of 25, without hitting a half-century. In this period, his strike rate has slipped to 71.42, which is remarkably lower than his career strike-rate of 87.89. — IANS

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