It was not the most idyllic setting for a press briefing. Probably not even the most fitting. Disco lights — which weren’t switched on — an open bar — which was bereft of spirit — lounge seats, and a mini-podium where you could imagine a chanteuse crooning a ballad to a rapt audience later that night. Even the overall lighting in the room bordered more on the feeble than the bright.
But on Saturday, it housed a quarter of the Indian touring party, as they sat shoulder to shoulder and revealed their plans and expectations for the gruelling few months that await them Down Under. The openers were there, Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan, each seated in a far corner. Next to Vijay sat Cheteshwar Pujara, the No.3, and two places to his right, the leader of the pace pack, Ishant Sharma.
When India touch down at the Adelaide Oval in three days’ time, they will in a likelihood be led by a young man in his first assignment at a highly-vaunted role. And it is these four talented teammates that Virat Kohli will bank on significantly to come through.
Anchor role for openers
For his team to make an impression he will need Vijay and Pujara to be his anchors to try and withstand the waves that Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris will send their way. He will also depend on Dhawan to be the game-changer at the top on pitches, which have historically both encouraged and rewarded a bit of belligerence at the top – Virender Sehwag and Michael Slater to name a couple. And it is to Ishant that Kohli will leave the task of fostering the fledgling fast bowling charges, and moulding them into a pace arsenal. One that can at least come close to matching the menace that Johnson & Co. promise to produce in the coming weeks.
But when asked about the threat that Johnson poses, both in terms of his fearsome skills with the ball and unabashed intimidation, Pujara not only sounded nonplussed, he seemed to welcome it. “On the field, you always expect that they are aggressive. That’s what we want. We are also a team who want to be aggressive and want to win here. We don’t want to be friendly on the field and I hope that’s the way it is, and I hope it remains like that,” he said.
It wasn’t just Pujara who was happy to strut on to the front foot and dismiss suggestions of being dominated by the Aussie hostility. Dhawan, in fact, went on to declare that there was no fear factor when it came to facing the likes of Johnson. He also spoke about how Kohli as captain would naturally be more aggressive and charged-up than the man he replaces, MS Dhoni, who landed in Adelaide earlier in the day.
“I feel that you need an aggressive opener in today’s cricket, which can turn things around. That will be a very good thing for us. I’d love to play that role, hopefully,” he said about his designated role in the team.
While they spoke incessantly about being up for the unique challenge of the Australian summer, and also about being keen on fighting fire with fire, the six also indulged in youthful banter, displaying the common wavelength that exists in the present line-up.
“We are all in the same age group. The average age group in our team is 26 or 27. That’s a pretty good sign for the team,” said Ishant.
Emotions in check
About being the leader of the young attack, he said, “You always learn from your experience. Last time I learnt that. I had a lot of expectation from myself. Because during the previous tour to Australia, the world came to know of me as a fast bowler from India. On the next tour, I expected a bit too much of myself. I couldn’t do that well that time. This time I will try to control my feelings, keep my emotions in check. That way I will be able to perform better rather than put pressure on myself through high expectations.”
Rohit is likely to start the series at No.6, while Raina will be the candidate to replace him if he were to struggle. But for now, the Mumbai right-hander was confident that playing the first Test in Adelaide would play to India’s advantage.
“We have stayed here for the last two weeks, and we have had a good centre-wicket practice as well. That will help us to get to know the conditions better. In the past also, if you see, we have performed well in Adelaide,” he said.
Late entries are fashionable at night clubs, for they cause an immediate impact on occasions. And the Indians arrived in this discotheque setting around 20 minutes later than scheduled. And heads did turn. They wasted no time in filling up the six seats. There was a little confusion to start with, as the bottles on the table in front of them carried sparkling water, which somehow seemed apt for the location. But the confusion was soon sorted out and normal water bottles handed to the players.
For a change, the Indians have arrived in Australia with plenty of time to get acclimatized to the conditions here. The unfortunate reasons that led to the rescheduling of the Tests have only extended their teething period. And though Indian teams might have felt a tad out of place Down Under in the years gone by, they are at least making the right noises about setting the record straight.