Australia's Marnus Labuschagne celebrates his double century on Day 2 of the third Test against New Zealand at Sydney earlier this year. PIC/AFP

Watch out for home boys, India!

By Ian Chappell | Mumbai

Updated: 25 October, 2020 07:33 IST

Even a diluted Australia were no pushovers the last time in 2018-19. They won the Perth Test and on paper at least, they're a far stronger combination this time.

After much haggling Cricket Australia (CA) has finally cobbled together a schedule for the summer series against India. However, there are still lingering doubts over an MCG Test and the BCCI is yet to sign off on a proposed schedule that has the appearance of a first draft.

In these weird pandemic times there is an heightened sense of chaos surrounding the upcoming tour.

Which brings to mind the words of respected Indian broadcaster Harsha Bhogle: "Indians can navigate through chaos and thrive in it, while it unsettles Australians."

2008 Monkeygate drama

Harsha issued this warning in January 2008 following the Monkeygate drama and a devastating Indian loss at the SCG. The implication was that Australia had played into their opponents' hands and what followed was the most unlikely of Indian victories at the pace-friendly WACA ground in Perth.

On Harsha's reading of the two rivals, Australia should be wary of the upcoming series with the probability of sudden last minute disruption. Uncertainty over the schedule at this late stage of preparations is reminiscent of what visiting teams have to contend with in the lead up to an Indian tour.

In other words India will be right at home in this chaotic atmosphere.

However, India shouldn't rely totally on the uncertainty surrounding the lead up to this series to ensure they replicate their last tour feat of a series victory.

Australia possesses a highly skilled pace attack ideally suited to home conditions. And this time round they won't be missing the valuable services of Steven Smith and David Warner and the batting has been further bolstered by the meteoric rise of Marnus Labuschagne.

Even a diluted Australia were no pushovers the last time in 2018-19. They won the Perth Test and on paper at least they're a far stronger combination this time.

India's chances for a repeat series victory will depend to a degree on Virat Kohli's ability to take charge against the Australian pace men and set an example for the other batsmen. On the last tour it was Cheteshwar Pujara who stubbornly resisted the Australians, eventually wearing them down so other Indian batsmen could prosper.

In the intervening period India has blooded a number of fine young batsmen who have showcased their talents in different forms of the game. There will be no shortage of competent players for the Indian selectors to choose from.

Nevertheless, one key to another Indian success will be how quickly the less experienced batsmen adapt to the vastly different conditions in Australia. Producing worthwhile totals, especially in the first innings, is an important part of competing in Australia.

The other half of the equation is producing a bowling attack capable of claiming 20 wickets on what, at times, can be soul-destroying pitches. On the last tour the Indian pace men performed at a level above and beyond in achieving this feat. The challenge this time will be to replicate that performance with a similar attack but against a vastly improved Australian batting line-up.

Riveting entertainment

The on-going battles between these two teams have provided riveting entertainment. They are currently the top two teams in the World Test Championship and this aspect will add a further edge to the rivalry. A series loss to one team or the other will be damaging to their prospects with the final of the World Test championship in June, 2021.

Adding to the intrigue, the border restrictions and isolation regulations brought about by the pandemic mean that the impregnable Gabba is not now the first but the last Test match. This will add to Australia's frustration, especially as Adelaide—a venue better suited to India's skill set—is now slated as the opening Test.

The last tour saw India start with a victory at Adelaide but Australia will be slightly appeased by the knowledge that this time it will be a day/night Test which will favour the home side.

In light of the surrounding unpredictability it'll be fascinating to see if the Kings of chaos prevail in such an uncertain atmosphere.

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First Published: 25 October, 2020 07:25 IST

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