Virat Kohli's Team India will take on Aaron Finch's Australia in the third and final Twenty20 International (T20I) in Sydney on Sunday in a bid to level the three-match series. On the other hand, the home side will be hoping to capitalise on a 1-0 lead and win just their second T20I series of the year. Staring at an imminent defeat after seven successive series wins on trot, India will be looking for yet another solid bowling performance against a brittle Australian top-order at the Sydney Cricket Ground. India were in with a very good chance of levelling the series in Melbourne on Friday after reducing Australia to 132/7 in 19 overs but rain played a spoil sport.
Now, a win at the SCG will at least let the visitors share the bragging rights and more importantly remain in a good frame of mind before the real test begins at Adelaide on December 6.
India are unbeaten in T20I engagements since July 2017, when they last lost to the West Indies in a one-off game in the Caribbean. They have won 20 out of 27 T20Is since then in different conditions and against varying opposition.
In doing so, India are unbeaten in nine consecutive T20I series since August 2017, including a drawn two-match contest against Australia at home (October 2017). They have won seven consecutive T20I series since - the Nidahas Trophy win in the tri-series in Sri Lanka (also including Bangladesh) and beating England away 2-1 in the summer gone past, are the highlights of this unbeaten run.
Last time in Australia, back in 2016, India had won the T20I series with an unprecedented 3-0 margin. Rain though has played spoilsport with their chance of winning a second consecutive T20I series Down Under. Perhaps the only silver lining is that they still can maintain their unbeaten record in this format with victory on Sunday.
In order to achieve this, India will like to carry on from where they left off in Melbourne. The surprisingly unchanged bowling attack put in a more disciplined performance as compared to their Brisbane outing, and both pacers and spinners were able to put the Australian batting order under constant pressure.
There were hiccups in the field of course - two dropped catches in keeping with a shoddy display in Brisbane as well. This is one area that the Indian team will be keen to improve on when the final game begins, for it could well be the difference again if the Australian batting clicks.
Pre-game in Melbourne, there was talk that the Indian team management might revert to type and bring back Yuzvendra Chahal to re-ignite his partnership with Kuldeep Yadav in a must-win game. The stakes haven't changed going into the series decider, yet India's improved showing with the ball gives reason for picking an unchanged side.
Given the situation, skipper Virat Kohli showed surprising consistency in team selection and continued to back Krunal Pandya in the all-rounder guise. The latter put in an improved showing of 1-26 in four overs, bowling Glenn Maxwell with a slow turner.
The SCG wicket is known to be helpful to spinners and thus there is no case to leave Pandya out.
It remains to be seen if India will be tempted to play Chahal nevertheless, if conditions do turn out to be drier than in Brisbane and Melbourne. The only option to do so is in leaving out Khaleel Ahmed then, who despite being a touch expensive in the first game has justified his selection thus far.
Dropping Ahmed won't be easy, as Kohli adopted stand-in skipper Rohit Sharma's plan (used against West Indies at home) to pair him with Bhuvneshwar Kumar first and bring in Jasprit Bumrah as first-change. Leaving him out would mean Kumar-Bumrah sharing the new ball, and unless conditions demand it, the team management again might not be too keen to change what clearly worked in Melbourne.
Whilst the Indian team was waiting for the rain to stop and play to resume, it was also noticeable that Kohli was sitting padded up in the dugouts even as openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma warmed up. It hinted at a possible re-promotion for the skipper to number three, in light of KL Rahul's struggles off late. It is again improbable that the latter will be left out at Sydney, but Kohli batting at number three and boosting the top-order in the series' finale could be India's best bet.
Australian pacer Billy Stanlake, who twisted his ankle during pre-match warm-up on Friday, is slated to undergo a scan on Saturday. Mitchell Starc has been included in Australia's T20I squad as a replacement for Stanlake.
Weather is set to relent on Sunday and unless conditions are drier than anticipated, Aaron Finch has no reason to change his playing eleven. His side now stands on the cusp of a surprise series' win against India, one thought inconceivable at the start of this week given the current turmoil in Australian cricket.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Rishabh Pant, Krunal Pandya, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Khaleel Ahmed, Washington Sundar.
Australia: Aaron Finch (capt), Ashton Agar, Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Chris Lynn, Ben McDermott, Glenn Maxwell, D'Arcy Short, Billy Stanlake, Marcus Stoinis, Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa.
Match starts at: 1.20 pm IST.
(With PTI Inputs)