Adelaide, Dec 8: The usually aggressive build-up has turned poignant owing to Phillip Hughes' tragic death but the on-field face-off is unlikely to be anything less than high-voltage when India and Australia compete in the opening cricket Test of a four-match series, starting here tomorrow.
More than two weeks after landing here, India will finally get down to serious competition with Virat Kohli leading the side in place of MS Dhoni, who is still recovering from a hairline fracture in his right thumb.
Indians are also dealing with uncertainty surrounding medium-pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar even as Australian skipper Michael Clarke was declared fit for the game. The visitors will be hoping to reverse their last Test series' result in this country, when under Dhoni they had lost 4-0 in 2011-12. (Full list of India's captains)
However, that thought will not be at the forefront when the match begins tomorrow. Instead, it will be a emotion-laden atmosphere that will welcome both teams, and for good reason. Adelaide is the adopted home of Hughes and there will be an intense outpouring of emotion before play gets underway.
Cricket Australia and South Australia Cricket Association have quite a few plans about honouring the cricketer, who was hit by a bouncer on November 24 in a Sheffield Shield game in Sydney and died two days later. For Australian cricket, and their whole community sporting or otherwise, it has been a very tough two weeks.
Clarke has been a pillar of strength
It is remarkable how they have mourned Hughes and celebrated every aspect of his short life, during which he played 26 Tests. They have put cricket on the back-foot and cared for their grieving cricketers in this tragic circumstance. ('Australia will rout India 4-0')
They were appreciative of the support they received from the BCCI and somehow managed to save the series and it remains a four-Test affair after the Brisbane Test was postponed from December 4 to December 17. Their skipper Clarke has been a pillar of strength during this sad time.
When the Indian team landed here, there was a little controversy brewing over his fitness and resultant selection for this first Test. (Watch Clarke's tribute to Hughes)
The way he marshalled the Australian cricketing fraternity ever since Hughes was injured, there was little doubt that he would be playing in Adelaide. And indeed, he has fought through to be ready ahead of this first encounter between the two sides.
Australia's tough preparations
At different times, Australian cricketers have come forth and expressed how tough it has been for them to prepare for this match. It has been an arduous process for them, getting into bat for the first time after Hughes fell, and bowl bouncers even.
After three days of team-bonding exercises and practice sessions, they are getting back to normal though. All of them have assured, come the Test, they will all give everything on the pitch and will be full of aggression.
For the visitors, this has been a long tour already, waiting two weeks for some high-voltage cricket to get under way.
They started off with a practice game at the Glenelg Oval, waited patiently as Australia grieved, practiced some more and then got into Test mode with another tour-game again in suburban Adelaide.
While their colleague's demise ought to have affected them, the Indian team hasn't made their emotions too visible, keeping a game-face at all times.
Young Indian team in Australia
And for good reason, because India's Test fortunes have been worrisome off late. The team is currently languishing at sixth in the ICC Test rankings and this is a proper reflection of their results in the last 12 months in this longest format.
They beat West Indies at home in autumn of 2013, but after that, have lost 1-0 in South Africa and New Zealand. Thereafter, this past summer, they lost 3-1 in England.
For the first time in living memory, India haven't played a home Test in a calendar year. While this factor must be taken into consideration, their slow progress overseas cannot be denied.
For a young team, this year has been about taking small steps and gaining experience. On each of the last three tours, the touring side was mostly unfamiliar with playing conditions in Africa, New Zealand and England, as only a handful squad members had played Test cricket in these countries previously.
This Australian tour is quite different in that respect. In 2011, apart from Dhoni, Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Ishant Sharma, R Ashwin and Umesh Yadav were part of the Test squad.
Australia XI: Chris Rogers, David Warner, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (captain), Steve Smith, Mitchell Marsh, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Nathan Lyon. Josh Hazlewood (12th), Phillip Hughes (13th).
India squad: Virat Kohli (captain), MS Dhoni, Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Lokesh Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Wriddhiman Saha, Naman Ojha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Karn Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron.
Match starts at 5.30 AM IST - Live on Star Sports