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India, thanks for coming to Queensland (really), and sorry about the hotel

Now, we have arrived at our Goldilocks moment, when everything is just right, or as right as it can get, for a side that has been on the road for months, has been ravaged by injuries, abused by crowds at the SCG and must now try to conjure victory at the Gabba, where the Australians have been winning for fun since Expo 88.

But those victories have usually taken place well before Santa has done his rounds. Red-ball cricket in these parts usually finds a home in November or December, when the touring side has barely touched the ground and the rearing, seaming deliveries rising from the famed Gabba track make for a hellish baptism.

India didn't feel a lot of love at the SCG but Mohammed Siraj and Jasprit Bumrah shared a moment after the draw.

India didn’t feel a lot of love at the SCG but Mohammed Siraj and Jasprit Bumrah shared a moment after the draw.Credit:Getty

There was a January Test at the Gabba in 2019, when Sri Lanka were decimated by an innings and 40 runs in a pink-ball affair that was over in time for a few days of pork knuckle lunches at the German Club over the road. Prior to that, you have to go all the way back to 1968 to find another instalment at this time of year, when Australia hosted India to complete a 39-run victory.

What that all means for this Test remains to be seen, but the Indians are hardly strangers to our shores this time around. Even with a host of their very best players unavailable through injury or family commitments, they will stride out to the middle with little fear of an opponent they held at bay so valiantly at the SCG.

Tim Paine was desperate to ensure Ravi Ashwin made it to the Gabba safe and sound, and now he has the Indians at Australia’s pet venue – which was to host the first Test but was flipped to the back of the schedule amid the COVID juggling – must make sure he and his side deliver as heavy favourites.

The Australian captain had a forgettable Sydney Test and delivered an apology for his juvenile sledging of Ashwin, which was caught on stump microphones and splattered across back pages. Combine that with the poor treatment of India’s fielders by small segments of the crowd and the tourists arrive at the Gabba as the outsiders with the bookies, which always goes down well in Queensland.

It’s hard not to wonder what could have been this summer if India had enjoyed more luck on the injury front. There’s every chance they could have had the series in their keeping by this point, or at least have had top-liners such as Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah and Ravi Jadeja at their disposal.

Now they must find a way to win, or at least not lose again, on a pitch that still has a touch of mythology about it, at a venue some feel the Board of Control for Cricket in India has done everything in its power to avoid on the past two tours.

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Aside from the intrigue in the middle, it will be fascinating to see how the Indians are received by the Brisbane crowds. So much has been said and written about their treatment in recent days and, with any luck, those in attendance at the Gabba, which has had its capacity reduced to 50 per cent, have taken notice.

Head coach Justin Langer and other leading Australians players, past and present, have urged patrons to show more respect and restraint. With India on their last legs in terms of injuries and having well and truly earned everyone’s respect in Sydney, there will be a universal hope that good will goes hand in hand with good cricket.

The Gabba streak will eventually be broken by a touring side and if India manage to find a way to triumph after all of their hardships, it would rightly go down as one of their greatest series victories.

But Paine and the Australians will bank on a much-improved performance at a ground that is as charming as a block of Soviet-era flats, but always brings a heightened sense of occasion and anticipation, even in the strange surrounds of January.

And to the Indians, win, lose or draw, thanks for coming. We do mean that.

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