There is little doubt that Australia will miss Michael Clarke, both as batsman and captain, on the tour of India. But even with Clarke around, they would have started as underdogs in their limited over series consisting of one T-20 international and seven ODIs. Without Clarke, India start as overwhelming favourites to win the contest.
The series is being billed as the fight for No. 1 with India occupying top slot and the Aussies a little way behind. However, playing at home the Indians could well have it easy against the visitors who are going through a rather turbulent phase in their cricketing history following the recent defeat in the Ashes contest in England. A couple of unhappy events off the field soiled the atmosphere further and there is little to suggest that things have improved.
The timing of the trip itself has come in for criticism and former Australian captain Ian Chappell in a typically hard hitting recent column has hit out at the authorities for agreeing to a ''meaningless ODI tour of India so close to an Ashes series'' which he suggests is ''evidence that Cricket Australia is more concerned with dollars than sense.''
The Aussie team management has done well in steering clear of the controversy and as stand-in skipper George Bailey has said the team is not bothered about Chappell's comments or the timing of the tour. Their focus is on the cricket to be played, not the commerce involved.
Be that as it may there are batting and bowling problems confronting the Aussies and a glance at the squad does not suggest the visitors will be able to upset a strong and supremely confident Indian side. The one consolation is that thanks to the IPL and the just concluded Champions League, almost every member of the team is conversant with Indian conditions.
For example five among the visiting team – Shane Watson, James Faulkner, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Couter-Nile - figured in Sunday’s Champions League final.
At Monday’s press conference, both Bailey and coach Steve Rixon kept harping on this aspect in a bid to infuse some encouragement into the squad. The Aussies can also take comfort from the fact that they defeated England 2-1 in the ODI series a couple of months ago and that they have generally performed admirably in bilateral contests in India in the past.
But of course that was the time when Australia were the reigning world champions. Now the wheels have turned and India are the world champions.
It must not be forgotten that India made a clean sweep of the four-Test series against Australia about six months ago. Perhaps, keeping this in mind Bailey spoke of how the tour will be a learning curve for his team while Rixon admitted that there is a lot of hard work ahead for the players adding that all of them will have to do really well if the visitors stand any chance of putting it across India.
In a way this is a good way to begin a tour, for expectations are not very high and it is clear that the Aussies are the underdogs. But to be fair to the tourists, they do have players who can be game changers and match winners.
Watson is the most prominent when it comes to this quality. Johnson showed in the ODI series against England that he still has a lot of firepower left in him besides playing his part in Mumbai Indians’ triumph in the Champions League. Two other cricketers who will garner a lot of attention will be Glenn Maxwell and Aaron Finch, the former on the basis of his utility qualities and big hitting and the latter following his successful exploits during the limited overs games in England.
Callum Ferguson who has replaced Clarke is a handy bat as is Adam Voges. Brad Haddin can be expected to bolster the batting in the middle order while the skipper himself is an under rated cricketer.
Overall, however, the team is short on skill, credentials and experience. The visitors have a combined experience of 627 ODI caps going into the series which is less than the combined caps of India’s three most experienced cricketers in the side – MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina.
Indeed when the teams are placed alongside the home team looks formidable. The Indians are high on confidence and have a combination that is an ideal blend of youth and experience. In the final analysis, it will be a major surprise if the Indians don’t end up victorious.