For the first time, perhaps, India have come to Australia with their bowlers in collective good form. Cricviz data says only four sides have travelled to Australia with better collective bowling averages in the two years leading up to an Australia tour. No Indian side has done better in the lead-up period. Add to it the fact that Australia are missing Steven Smith and David Warner, and it is hard to not see why India are relaxed and positive about their chances.
Then again, less recent history is not kind to these Indian bowlers. Two of the bowlers to play in Adelaide are among the three worst specialist bowlers to have sent down 2000 balls in Australia. Other bowlers have unflattering records, too. Asked how he felt about his bowlers a day before the first Test, Virat Kohli exuded optimism, saying the bowlers felt at the peak of their game and didn't really need a certain set of conditions to be able to perform well.
"I think it's pretty different from what we had when we came here last time," Kohli said. "They are more experienced, and the guys are way fitter than they were when they came here last time. I think the key in Australia is to keep bowling in the right areas for longer periods of time. The conditions also become hard because it can get really hot and the pitches can be flat purely because of the Kookaburra not doing much after 20-odd overs till it reverses around 45-50 (overs). That middle phase is very crucial.
"We have identified those things and the guys themselves feel that they are at the peak of their skill level at the moment. They are looking forward to this challenge, they don't want to be in a situation where we are looking for ideal bowling conditions or ideal batting conditions. So the bowlers are in a mindset that whatever the situation might be, or however hard it might be, they are looking forward to performing in those conditions and doing what the team wants at the end of the day.
"No one is going out there gunning for a six-wicket haul for himself. If it means bowling eight good overs in a spot and getting a wicket for the team, they are ready to that. So I think that mindset is very crucial and that feedback is coming from the bowlers themselves. It's not been told to them; they only are talking about it, which I think is a very positive sign."
There is one missing link, though. This is the one tour where India needed Hardik Pandya to help the specialist bowlers out. The heat, the flat pitches, the Kookaburra, the soft outfields, all take a toll on the bowlers. This is only the second time since Kohli took over captaincy full time, and first time away from home, that India are starting a series with just four bowlers in their XI. It is not a change of minds, but a decision forced on them.
"It obviously has an impact," Kohli said of the absence of the allrounder. "I mean every side would like to have a fast-bowling allrounder, which we don't have right now with Hardik injured. That obviously is a great luxury to have for any side. We don't, so we have to go with the best possible combination. Again, the workload on guys who will play in the absence of an allrounder will be high, but that's something that has already been discussed. They should look forward to that and not think of it as a burden, or something which is going to be tough. Because at the international level, things are tough.
"So, we will just have to embrace that and make something out of the resources that we have at present and try to put in the performances that the team expects from the players. Losing Hardik is obviously a bit of an issue, (but) I don't see it as a major one because in Australia you still have to bowl really well even if you are an allrounder. To contain the batsmen is always a challenge."
Another issue for India away has been that they have been slow starters. That is something Kohli has taken note of, and wants his side to play fearlessly. "We are not looking to start tentatively," Kohli said. "We all want to express ourselves, go out there and be positive. Not meaning that we are going to play rash shots and we are going to be all over the place with the ball, but it's just in our heads wanting to bring our A game in the first match itself, and then try and lay a good foundation for us and capitalise on that as the series goes on.
"We don't want to wait to figure out what the condition of the pitch is going to be, we have got to read it really early and alter our games accordingly, which I think we failed to do in the last tours. When we have done it, we have won games but we will have to do it for longer periods to be able to win series, which is our goal. We don't want to be a side that plays exciting cricket for one Test match. We want to be a consistent side and for that, we need to adapt quicker than we have in the past."