Sydney: India, even if you won't hear them say it, have never had a better chance of clinching their first Test series triumph in Australia than over the next month against a host nation in the turmoil of transition.              

The series may lack the history of an Ashes encounter, or the volatile edge of India-Pakistan clashes, but it is an intriguing match-up between two proud cricketing nations.       

India have never won a series in South Africa either but have tried for longer (since 1947) and more frequently (this will be the 10th series) in Australia.   

To India, Australia is the final frontier and for a golden generation of batsmen - Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman - this will be their last chance to conquer it.   

The likes of Dravid know better than to fall into discussions of whether the Tests in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Adelaide present their best chance.    

"We've got to play Melbourne well and take it from there," Dravid said in an ICC podcast this week. "In the past we haven't started well on tours and hopefully we can this time and the momentum will carry us through.   

"We'll need consistent performances from a lot of players. We're going to need two or three bowlers to step up and two or three batsmen to step up."   

The batsmen should not be a problem.   

The three most prolific test batsmen of all time, Tendulkar, Dravid and Ricky Ponting, will be on display in the series and two of them will be playing for India.   

Add to that Laxman, who has always excelled against Australia, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and young gun Virat Kohli and you have a formidable line-up if, as Adam Gilchrist believes, batting dominates the series.   

"The general view is that wickets have tamed somewhat and the Indian players will certainly find ways to score hundreds in those conditions," the former Australian great said recently.    

"I wouldn't say there will be dead wickets but maybe not as spicy as it used to be in previous years."   


Certainly nothing as spicy as the Hobart greentop which bamboozled both Australian and New Zealand batsmen earlier this month and led to the Black Caps winning a Test across the Tasman Sea for the first time in 26 years.   

Australia's collapse on the final day of that match, coming hard and fast on the heels of their skittling for 47 in South Africa in last month, caused another round of soul-searching and the axing of Phil Hughes and Usman Khawaja.   

Seven of the 13-man squad for the Boxing Day match, which opens the series at the Melbourne Cricket Ground next Monday, had not played a test before this year and the most experienced batsman, Ponting, has not scored a Test century for two years.   

Former Australia skipper Steve Waugh, who retired at the end of the drawn 2003-4 series against India, still believes the tourists would be wrong to underestimate the task that lies ahead of them.    

"We're very difficult to beat in Australia, no matter what team we put out," he said.    

"In front of our home crowds, our own conditions. It can be a bit of a hostile environment and our pitches probably suit our bowlers better than any other country."   

The emergence of teenager Pat Cummins and 21-year-old James Pattinson as genuine test pace bowlers in Australia's last three matches had been a great boost to the hosts even if injury has already stalled the former's career.   

Improved Relations   

Quick bowling in Australia can be hard labour at its most intensive and India have already lost two of their preferred pacemen.   

Praveen Kumar (fractured rib) and Varun Aaron (back) were ruled out of the tour by injury and replaced by four-Test veteran Abhimanyu Mithun and uncapped R Vinay Kumar.   

But while there are also concerns about Ishant Sharma's ankle, tall paceman Umesh Yadav impressed against West Indies in his first test series last month and Zaheer Khan has been rested for four months.   

Zaheer's departure from England in August because of ankle and hamstring injuries contributed to the 4-0 drubbing the Indians suffered - a humiliation they would go some way to  erasing if they won in Australia.   

Tendulkar's quest for his century of international centuries adds another absorbing sub-plot to the series, which both teams hope will avoid the acrimony that marked the 2007-8 India tour.    

The allegations of racist name-calling and bad sportmanship in the "Bollyline" or "Monkeygate" row at the Sydney test marked a low in relations between the two sides.    

Dravid, in the annual Donald Bradman Oration in Canberra last week, said he thought a repeat was unlikely.       

"Both teams will know that they should have done things a little differently in the Sydney test," he said.    

"We've played each other twice in India already and relations between the two teams are much better than they have been as far as I can remember."