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Will the unpredictability around the Australia tour give India the edge?

India are more comfortable with chaos than the hosts, but they have a highly skilled batting line-up to contend with this time

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
India have a harder task on their hands this time, with Smith and Warner present  •  Getty Images

India have a harder task on their hands this time, with Smith and Warner present  •  Getty Images

After much haggling Cricket Australia 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 a 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."
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. 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. In fact, 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, they shouldn't rely totally on uncertainty to ensure they replicate the feat they pulled off last time, of a series victory. Australia possess a highly skilled pace attack ideally suited to home conditions. And this time round they won't be missing the valuable services of Steve 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 last time - they won the Perth Test - and on paper at least, they are 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 pacemen 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 have 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, 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 down under.
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 fast bowlers 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.
Recent 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. For either team, a series loss to 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 sets - is now slated for the opening Test.
On the last tour India started with a victory in 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.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist