India-Australia-England Tri-series: It's Virat Kohli vs Steven Smith vs Joe Root
India, Australia and England will battle it out in a ODI tri-series, starting in Sydney on January 16. Virat Kohli, Steven Smith and Joe Root are expected to play key roles for their teams
The final dress rehearsal for the upcoming World Cup 2015 from February 14 will see the "Big Three" of international cricket -- India, England and Australia -- battle it out in a ODI tri-series starting from January 16. With an eye on World Cup glory, all three teams will be eager to get their preparation up and running. Here are the top five players to watch out for from all the three sides:
Virat Kohli is India's man of the moment. Having taken over the Test captaincy from Mahendra Singh Dhoni and shrugged off poor form from England, he will be the fulcrum of India's batting in the tri-series. The 26-year-old batsman already has 21 ODI tons and will be keen to add to that tally ahead of his second World Cup in February. Kohli, who had enthralled the crowd at Hobart in 2012 with a scintillating 86-ball knock of 133 to help India chase 321 in 36.4 overs, will be the man both Australia and England will want to dismiss early.
Rohit Sharma may find himself in and out of the Test side, but once the team shifts to coloured kits, he becomes one of Team India's most valuable assets. Rohit, who smashed a world record score of 264 against Sri Lanka at the iconic Eden Gardens only a month ago, will look to get some runs and confidence under his belt before the start of the World Cup. Having averaged in excess of 50 in the last two calendar year, Rohit will be eager to get 2015 off to a similar, rollicking start.
Ajinkya Rahane has been India's silent star through the Test series versus Australia. The 26-year-old Mumbai batsman has grown from strength to strength in overseas conditions in the longest format of the game. With a century each in New Zealand, England and Australia, Rahane has stamped his class in the India top-order in Tests. Now is the opportunity for him to cement his spot in the crowded ODI middle-order. Rahane has showed no inhibitions against odd bounce and pace in Australia so far and will look to be among the runs again.
The little-known, uncanny left-arm spinning all-rounder from Gujarat could be Dhoni's "X-factor" at the World Cup. For that however, the 20-year-old needs to stave off competition from a player of similar mould -- Ravindra Jadeja. Jadeja's unavailability during the tri-series due to injury gives Axar an opportunity to make a solid impact on skipper Dhoni. It is an open secret that Dhoni has always preferred slow bowling options who can contain runs in the crucial middle stage of an ODI. Axar seems like a candidate who will fit the bill. The youngster has played just nine ODIs so far, but has bagged 14 wickets at a miserly economy rate of 4.49.
Ishant Sharma has been on a tour of Australia on three previous occasions but the upcoming tri-series could well prove to be the most crucial one for the lanky pacer. Ishant, who has had a topsy-turvy ODI career so far with 106 wickets in 76 matches, has been picked to play in his first World Cup. With 9 wickets in the four Tests, Ishant has been one of the better bowlers in the Indian line-up. Whether he can translate that form in the tri-series will have an impact on the number of games he will get to play in the World Cup.
After a lot of thinking and contemplation, England removed Alastair Cook and handed the ODI captaincy to attacking middle-order batsman Eoin Morgan. While the move comes as a positive one for England, the pressure will be immense on Morgan. He has had a forgettable 2014, scoring 560 runs in 23 ODIs at an average of 25.45. The bright side, however, is that Morgan averages 71.6 when he has led England (eight ODIs). The way he performs in the tri-series will shape England's fate at the World Cup.
Fresh from a blistering knock of 187 in the tour match vs Prime Minister's XI, Ian Bell will be the man to watch out for in England's batting line-up. Bell has featured in 150 ODIs and has 4,907 runs to his name and has enjoyed scoring against India (963 runs) and Australia (1065 runs). England may not go into the World Cup as one of the favourites but if Bell can get his form going in the tri-series, he could help his side ruffle a few feathers.
In Moeen Ali, England have found a batsman whose repertoire includes solidity and aggression in equal measure. After his 19-wicket haul in the Tests versus India in 2014, Moeen has transformed into a top-order batsman who can roll his arm over to great effect. On the slow Australian wickets, Moeen has the potential of being a solid match-winner for his side.
The 24-old, baby-faced Joe Root has been one of the best English batsmen in the last two years. Making his international debut in 2013, Root has made steady progress in both Tests and ODIs, showing great promise and appetite for runs. With the confidence of having made it to his first-ever World Cup squad, Root will be the man whom both teams -- India and Australia -- need to be wary of in the tri-series.
Having missed the recently-concluded ODI series vs Sri Lanka, James Anderson will be eager to get on the field and prove his fitness and form ahead of the World Cup. Out of his 257 ODI wickets, Anderson has enjoyed good returns against Australia (36 wickets) and India (35 wickets).
David Warner's early assault with the bat in limited-overs cricket have the potential to throw the opposition off-guard right from the start. Warner's nonchalant ways and aggressive demeanour will be key to Australia's chances in the tri-series and their bid to claim their first-ever World Cup on home soil.
After going past Sir Donald Bradman in the Test series, Australia's man of the moment Steve Smith will be the Australian to watch out for in the tri-series. During the course of making big hundreds in the Test series, the young Aussie Test skipper reached a stage in his batting where getting him out looked impossible as he amassed big hundreds. With a lucrative contract upgrade in the offing and a maiden World Cup appearance coming up, Smith will be eager to repay the faith during the tri-series.
The ever-smiling Australian ODI skipper has a task at hand. The middle-order free-scoring batsman is the only Australian in the top-10 ODI rankings but the pressure on him will be massive. The imminent return of Michael Clarke and the growth of Steve Smith could put his World Cup spot in jeopardy. Bailey will be keen to marshall his troops to a victory in the tri-series and give the Australian selectors a nice headache for the World Cup.
Australia's swashbuckling batsman Glenn Maxwell has endured a poor run of form in ODIs and has frequently been in and out of the Australian Test side. Maxwell also has the chance to impress the selectors with his spin bowling to try and steal a march ahead of Xavier Doherty in the pecking order. The tri-series at home will thus, give Maxwell a chance to rejuvenate and get into the groove ahead of the World Cup.
Often regarded as the leader of Australia's bowling attack in the future, the tri-series against India and England could be the watershed moment for the young and pacey Pat Cummins. Cummins is fast and promising but doesn't have the numbers to back himself up as yet. Selection in the World Cup squad would have given the youngster an additional spring in his step and he will be keen to translate all the hype around him to reality before Australia kick-start their bid to claim their fifth World Cup title.