SYDNEY   -   The Twenty20 Internationals were shared and India dominated, for the most part, in the Tests, but with the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019 fast approaching, the one-day internationals assume greater importance.

Both sides have plenty of questions they’d like answered as soon as possible. The three ODIs – in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne – will go a long way towards helping them put plans in place. India have 13 ODIs left before the World Cup, and while they have a clear idea of the squad they will take to England, there are combinations within that have to be clarified. Will MS Dhoni be retained or will Dinesh Karthik take his place? Who are the back-ups to Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar? Do both Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal play all matches?

A few of these questions might be answered in the coming days, and plenty of eyes will be on Dhoni in particular – his extended lean patch has put his place under scrutiny like never before, and the veteran will hope to regain the sort of form that made him a world-beater. Virat Kohli, the India captain, has more immediate concerns though.

With question marks over the availability of Hardik Pandya – he’s involved in a furore over comments made in a TV show – India have to think about another all-round option. That’s no easy task, given that Pandya, being a seam-bowling all-rounder, is crucial to India’s balance. Kohli believes Ravindra Jadeja is up to the task, even though he is a spin-bowling all-rounder. “From the combination and team balance point of view, yes, you’ll have to think about the combination you’ll need now,” Kohli said.

Australia too will be in fine-tuning mode. For starters, none of the lead pacers will be in action – all of Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc have been rested for the series. The likes of Jhye Richardson and Jason Behrendorff are set to take their place. Aaron Finch, the Australia captain, will also have a new opening partner in Alex Carey, the wicket-keeper batsman, in a reshuffled batting line-up, in which Glenn Maxwell, the big-hitting all-rounder, will come in as low as No.7, with the inexperienced Peter Handscomb set to walk out before him.

Finch said Australia were targeting improvement in the middle overs with their reshuffled batting line-up. “It hasn’t been a secret that through those middle overs, it’s been a part of the innings where we’ve probably lost that one or two wickets too many, which when you go into the back 10 overs, you’re really stretching yourself when you’ve got the bowlers effectively batting at that point. “We feel as though if we can keep some wickets in hand and really load up with some batters and power at the back end of the innings, that’ll give us a bit more oomph going into that last 10 overs.

Australia ODI captain Aaron Finch didn’t really fare well in Test whites in the home series. He struggled repeatedly, and was dropped for the final Test before being axed from the squad altogether for the next series against Sri Lanka. Finch admitted he should have scored more runs, and a return to the familiar surrounds of white-ball cricket might just be what the doctor ordered for Australia’s big-hitter.

MS Dhoni had a poor 2018, but the hope is that the turn of the year sparks a reversal of form, which has never been this dry for the 37-year-old. There is pressure on the management to pick Dinesh Karthik, and the time is high for Dhoni to make the most of the long rope he’s been given. This may well be the last time he’s playing Down Under, so there’s no better time to do that. There is rain both on the eve of the match and the day after it, but match day is expected to be clear and sunny. If the pitch is anything like the one in the Tests, in which India scored 622 first-innings runs, expect batsmen to lick their lips.

TEAMS:

AUSTRALIA: Aaron Finch (c), Alex Carey (wk) Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell, Nathan Lyon, Peter Siddle, Jhye Richardson, Jason Behrendorff

INDIA: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Siraj, Khaleel Ahmed, Mohammed Shami.