It was a standing joke before every series Australia played. Leader of the attack, Glenn McGrath, would make a sweeping prediction about the scoreline. “Australia will win 5-0,” was usually the tenor of his semi tongue-in-cheek prediction. McGrath was proven right often enough. When the same question was posed to Mitchell Johnson, the left-arm fast bowler who has inherited the mantle of spearhead, he laughed in response.
While they're a confident team, this Australian unit is not a patch on its predecessors when it comes to inspiring fear in the opposition. With giants like Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and others in the mix, Australia were a feared unit.
This team, though, is more anonymous, and the lead up to the Test series has been proportionately subdued. The whole squad hasn't even got here yet, with the likes of Mike Hussey, Doug Bollinger and Peter George still in South Africa playing in the Champions League.
This team is only ranked fourth in the ICC's Test tables, and this time, the shoe is on the other foot as India are not only more experienced, but also higher ranked.
“We're probably a bit less-experienced in these conditions,” conceded Michael Clarke, who is vice-captain, but also a key component of the batting, occupying the No. 4 position. “All the guys have played a lot of first-class cricket and some Test cricket. We just haven't played much Test cricket as a team in India. If we can play our best cricket, I’m confident we can beat India in this series.”
While the ICC rankings put Australia three places behind India at No. 4, the cricket world does not quite see the gap between the two teams as that broad. And Clarke took the rankings with a pinch of salt. “I’ve never really bothered too much about the rankings. Obviously, you want to be the No. 1 ranked team in Tests, ODIs and Twenty20 - that’s the perfection you're looking for,” he said. “But what I'd think about more seriously is how the opposition rate us. I'd like to play the best we can and then at the end of the series see where India rate us.”
Tim Nielsen, Australia coach, believed his team would make up for lack of experience in these conditions by the preparation they've put in. “It's nice to have (Ricky) Ponting, (Simon) Katich, (Shane) Watson, Clarke, Hussey, (Tim) Paine, Johnson ... seven or eight of the first XI who have been part of Test tours in the past,” he said. “I honestly believe it's not just about playing Tests, it’s the whole experience, the travel, the fanatical following, the heat, the rain, different food, different culture, different ideas, the different ball. Our boys are lucky to have played here in the IPL or the Champions League or one-dayers. So we understand the country well.”
What’s left, now, is for the rains to stay away, so the contest can get underway. Then, fans can get a clear picture of just how the top teams stack up against each other.