The India-Australia Test series outcome can have severe repercussions on the leadership groups of both teams. If India lose badly, then the boisterous partnership between two boy-men, Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli, is likely to end as the team management cannot survive another messy result. If Australia suffer a big jolt, then they might be forced to shed the new moral leash that has reined them in after the brouhaha over the ball-tampering saga. Their leadership, led by Tim Paine, too might be disrupted, and they would have to return to the likes of Steve Smith and David Warner, banned for involvement in ball tampering. In a nutshell, the future map and playing style of both teams are likely to be decided in this series.
India have chinks in their batting to sort out. Is K L Rahul a genuine Test opener? Can M Vijay regain his old self? Would Ajinkya Rahane, once India’s best overseas batsman, rediscover his confidence? Can Cheteshwar Pujara consistently turn out the big scores abroad? And can Rohit Sharma finally step up at this level?
There are question marks against the bowlers as well. In the recent past, they have shown they are world-class in conditions that favour seam or swing. But Australian tracks, and especially the Kookaburra ball, behave differently.
There would be bounce but not excessive deviation in the air or off the pitch. So Indian bowlers will have to extend themselves and play out of their comfort zones to put Australian batsmen under pressure. For R Ashwin, who started well in the recent England series before fading out, this tour is important. A couple of bad Tests, he might see himself out of the reckoning. Ultimately, though, it will be a series that will decide the aura of Kohli the leader. Kohli the batsman can survive a rare poor series, but Kohli the captain can’t afford more slip-ups.