Strong rivals India and Australia will resume their cricketing rivalry as they go into the first One-dayer on Sunday with the injury-hit hosts fully aware that a series triumph in the seven-match rubber would catapult them to the number one spot.
The Indians will also be keen to make amends for their Champions Trophy debacle as they take on the world champions in what promises to be a thrilling contest of nerve and skills.
Though flamboyant Virender Sehwag has returned to bolster the Indian top-order, Yuvraj Singh is unlikely to take the field for the series-opener at the Reliance Stadium.
Australia are in super form having clinched the Champions Trophy title, which followed an impressive 6-1 thrashing of England while the Indians have not quite lived upto expectations in recent times.
The hosts were knocked out of the Champions Trophy at the league stage where they could manage just one win.
India have done well in the last couple of years and would take inspiration from the fact that they had beaten Australia in their own den when they clashed last in a One-day series.
But India have a less-than-impressive One-day record in bilateral series against Australia at home, having won seven and lost 12 of their 23 encounters over the years.
It will, therefore, be a sort of revenge series for both teams as before India’s victory in Australia, the visitors had outclassed the hosts 4-2 in their last best-of-seven contest in this country two years ago.
Sachin Tendulkar’s form is crucial to India’s fortune. He was instrumental with an unbeaten ton and a score of 91 during India’s historic triumph in the VB Series Down Under.
With a line up of Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina and Dhoni, the home team’s batting is their strength.
Ponting has already sounded wary about the strength of India’s batting line-up led by Tendulkar and the fit-again Virender Sehwag at the top by calling it “formidable”.
Bowling is a big concern for India after a lacklustre performance in the Twenty20 World Cup as well as the Champions Trophy in South Africa.
Ishant Sharma, who has struggled to recapture the sort of rhythm and speed with which he rattled even a great batsman like Ponting on India’s last visit to Australia, is under pressure.
The bowling attack has been re-arranged with the inclusion of Munaf Patel for R P Singh to support the in-form Ashish Nehra and Ishant. Praveen Kumar and Sudeep Tyagi are the other two pacers in the running.
The spin department, which would hold the key in the middle overs, is spearheaded by off-spinner Harbhajan Singh who needs to come up with a better performance than his haul of three wickets in seven matches in the previous series between these two teams to make an impact.
Leg spinner Amit Mishra is the back-up for Harbhajan if included in the playing eleven.
The poor bowling performance in two ICC events has led to the sacking of bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad and it would be interesting to see how the team copes up with the change in their support staff.
In form skipper Ponting and vice captain Michael Hussey hold the key to the Australian batting , not to forget all-rounder Shane Watson who has come to India on the back of successive hundreds in the semi-final and final of the Champions Trophy.
Ponting is aware of the threats posed by the Indian slow bowlers especially in sub continent conditions but is confident that his batsmen would be up for the challenge.
Australia would bank upon their strong pace attack, and especially on Brett Lee who powered New South Wales to the maiden Champions T20 League title last night.
Lee and left-arm pacer Mitchell Johnson pack a lot of punch in their attack and were in the forefront when India were routed for 148 in the previous encounter between the two teams at this venue two years ago.
With the impressive Peter Siddle, the Victorian who also has got used to the Indian conditions by playing in the CLT20, and swing bowler Ben Hilfenhaus present as the other options, Australia carry a huge pace armoury.
Spin looks to be their weak spot with neither off spinner Nathan Hauritz nor rookie left-arm slow bowler Jon Holland expected to give the Indian batsmen cause for major worries.
But in the department of fielding the visitors hold a clear-cut edge over the hosts. Fielding coach Robin Singh has also been given the boot by the BCCI and this area may become decisive in the outcome of the high-octane contest.
Australia: Ricky Ponting (captain), Michael Hussey (vice captain), Doug Bollinger, Nathan Hauritz, Jon Holland, Ben Hilfenhaus, James Hopes, Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine, Peter Siddle, Adam Voges, Shane Watson and Cameron White.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, Ashish Nehra, Praveen Kumar, Amit Mishra, Sudeep Tyagi, Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja.
Umpires: Mark Benson and Shavik Tarapore.
Third umpire: Amish Saheba
Match Referee: Chris Broad
Hours of play: 9 am to 12.30 pm; 1.10 pm to close.