BANGALORE, (Reuters) – India have fought some epic battles with Australia but now embark on a test tour with what many believe is their best chance of humbling the wearers of the baggy green caps in their own back yard for the first time.
The average Indian fan will be viewing the series with a sense of apprehension, wondering if the team are good enough to conquer the final frontier.
They will also hope the four-test series can represent a coming-of-age for the likes of Virat Kohli, Ravichandran Ashwin and other stars of the next generation.
This is most likely the last stand Down Under for the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Vangipurappu Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan, who will want to bow out by guiding India to its first ever test series win in Australia.
After the drubbing at the hands of England earlier this year, a series victory would be redemption of sorts and go some way to proving India are not just a force to be reckoned with in the shorter formats of the game.
Roughly half of the Indian squad was not part of the England series and it will also be the first tour of Australia for them, so the rookies can expect a stern test.
And while Australia’s slump in form presents a golden opportunity, India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni remains cautious.
“Some people think that the last Australian team was much better than the current Australian side. To judge them is quite a difficult task,” Dhoni told reporters in Chennai on the eve of departure for Australia.
“(Because they are) missing big names in the present setup, some people think that this is our best chance. But we did well that time also (in 2007) and quite a few things happened in the series.”
A series win, or even a tightly contested one, would also help the Indian young guns ensure there is life beyond one-day internationals and the instant gratification found in Twenty20s.
To many Indian fans, drawing the 2003-04 series in Australia felt as special as beating them back home but the young faces in Indian cricket are not content with, or used to, coming off second best.
Virender Sehwag, fresh from his recording the highest individual score in a one-day match, will look to combine with Gautam Gambhir at the top of the order and provide the launchpad for a formidable batting lineup that follows.
Tendulkar, of course, continues the search for the elusive century of centuries. Could it be karma that the hunt leads him to Aussie shores?
As Dravid looks to continue a good run of form that started against the West Indies earlier this year, Laxman will hope to continue what is now, almost, his birthright, a good run of form against the Aussies.
With the top five picking themselves and Dhoni taking the seventh spot, the toss up will be between youngsters Kohli and Rohit Sharma for the number six spot, which has been up for grabs since Sourav Ganguly’s retirement.
No one among Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and a host of other youngsters have managed to cement the spot in the much-vaunted Indian batting line-up.
Dhoni will bank on the experience and guile of pace bowling spearhead Zaheer to take advantage of Australia’s new found tendency for batting collapses and hope that Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Abhimanyu Mithun and Vinay Kumar give a good account of themselves.
The onus of tying up the Aussie top order will fall mainly on the capable shoulders of Ashwin, whose off-spin will lead the slow bowling attack in the absence of Harbhajan Singh and the retired Anil Kumble.
“Ashwin has just made his debut in the series against West Indies and nobody knew what Ashwin can do. But he ended up winning the man-of-the-series in the tests,” Dhoni said. “Even when Shane Warne or Glenn McGrath made their debut they started from zero wickets.”
Like Australia did recently, India will soon approach a period of transition as they lose world class performers to the inevitability of retirement.
Whether they claim the four-match series or not, India is hoping the tour will sow the seeds of building a team that can eventually win a test world title just as the one-day side did back in April.