MICHAEL CLARKE embarked on Tuesday on the first leg of three potentially career-defining series with question marks over his fitness and uncertainty over the team that must defy recent history to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
The captain was given a snapshot during the recent ODI series as to what it was like to lead a team minus Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey, but will learn more in the next six weeks on the road in India before back-to-back Ashes campaigns.
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Clarke: I'll be right for first Test
Australia captain Michael Clarke says he'll be fit for the first Test against India.
Clarke's last Test tour of the subcontinent, in 2010, was not a happy one. It was the start of a horror three months for both Clarke and the Australian team which culminated in a humiliating drubbing against England.
Clarke, despite his reputation as a high-class player of spin, managed only 35 runs from four innings against India, who were then ranked world No.1.
Australia have triumphed just once in India in more than 43 years and are not favoured to improve on that record this time either.
Clarke was part of the team in 2004 which conquered what Steve Waugh had described as the final frontier, though the party he leads this time is not in the same class as the great Australian sides from the mid 90s to the late 2000s.
''Touring India is as tough a challenge as I've had in my career,'' Clarke said. ''Every time I've been there on a Test tour it's been extremely difficult, hence the Australian team hasn't won that much over there. So it's a huge challenge, the players know that.
''That's partly why we're trying to prepare as well as we can by sending players early to get them used to conditions, to give ourselves the best chance. We know it's going to be tough, we know how good India is, but we look forward to it.''
Despite having a super-sized touring party at his disposal on the subcontinent, Clarke said he would enter the campaign with a blank canvas regarding selection. All 11 positions were up for grabs, Clarke insisted, and no player, including the skipper himself, was assured of selection.
That, of course, cannot be the case. For starters, Matthew Wade, as the only wicketkeeper in the touring party, is guaranteed a start.
Among the combinations being considered are moving Wade to No.6 to leave room for either a spin- or seam-bowling all-rounder at No.7.
Clarke refused to declare Ed Cowan would retain his place as opener but he said Shane Watson's strong return at the top of the order in the 50-over arena was not considered a relevant form guide.
''There's no comparison to opening the batting in Test cricket, especially in the subcontinent,'' Clarke said. ''I think Ed, like Davey Warner, had a really good Australian summer and put their hand up against the No.1 Test team in the world.
''I think it's a really positive sign that we've got so many options in our squad.
''Obviously Shane needs to come back into the line-up somewhere. Like I've said though, it's a lot different now that Watto's not bowling.
''As an all-rounder I think he walks into any team. As a batsman there is a much bigger pool of players so we need to work out what our best batting line-up is that complements the team and we'll go from there.''
Clarke said he was a certain starter for the first Test, but would liaise with team physio Alex Kountouris before a decision was made on his availability for the three-day tour game beginning on Saturday.
Clarke stopped short of declaring that game a trial but said performances would count at the selection table for some. For others it was about adjusting to the different conditions.