David Warner, the “reverend”, was standing inside a dimly lit truck, urging his teammates to hand over the heavy trunks. The scene played out at the Mumbai airport on Monday night after Australia flew in from Dubai. They trooped into the team bus when they were told there was no help arranged from the Indian board, and they would have to do some heavy lifting themselves. And off they rolled the luggage around when they found Warner — once called The Bull and whose sobered version these days has earned him the moniker reverend — in the truck. “It was good leadership from the reverend,” Glenn Maxwell said on the sidelines of a practice session at the Cricket Club of India on Wednesday.
Mitchell Marsh was walking around the team hotel in Dubai last week during the Australians’ two-week preparatory camp at the ICC academy ahead of the India series. The pitches were roughed up — there is a visual of Steve Smith ripping a googly, and getting it to turn and bounce almost as if it were a fifth-day pitch in India. After a day of training, Marsh wandered into the team room at the hotel, and picked up a pack of diapers from Nathan Lyon’s bag. Nicknamed Gazza, after the Aussie rules player Gary Lyon, Lyon was travelling with a young family. Marsh took a crack: “This could come in very handy in India in case of an upset tummy. I could even be playing in one of them.”
Not that his father Geoff Marsh thought his son was funny, though. Back in Australia, he kept a close watch on Marsh’s blog, and sent a message across to his son. “I have one tip for you, mate. Well, if you can actually try to be funny, it would help!” Mitch had a response, though.”Apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. I am your son. If I am not funny, then I don’t know who is going to be laughing at your blogs!”
All this banter — funny or otherwise — hides the fact that this Australian team has tried to prepare as diligently as possible. Special Indian-themed pitches were created in Dubai — “Like day 4 and day 5 tracks,” according to Mitch — and they have had a good workout. Nothing, of course, can prepare them for game time in India with its noisy crowd packing in the stands and trying to make the Aussies as uncomfortable as possible.
Maxwell, though, thinks otherwise. In a chat with cricket.com.au, he talked about “feeding off the energy of Indian crowd”, and talked about how special it was to play in front of “passionate” crowds. The main theme of the pre-series talk has already been about sledging. On Tuesday, the boyish Steve Smith said that if some of his teammates want to have a go (at sledging), they would be free to do so. It all depends on the individuals.
One man who won’t be sledging though is Maxwell. At least not to Virat Kohli. “I’m probably not going to say anything to him, that’s for sure. Virat is up and down, I suppose, with sledging. If you (strike) a chord with him, or something gets him agitated to play a big shot, then blokes are more than welcome to go for it. But at the moment, there’s not much agitating him,” Maxwell said on Wednesday. “I think Steve (Smith, Australia captain) said it perfectly in the press conference yesterday – the guys that want to get involved verbally, if that gets the best out of them, then go for it.”
“I don’t think it’s anything particular as far as technique or anything like that. I just think he’s so on top of his game at the moment,” Maxwell said of Kohli prior to the Australia squad conducting their first training session of their two-month tour at the CCI in Mumbai.
“Guys can go through a run of form like that where they just get on a roll and everything seems to click for them, and that’s happened for him at the moment. The thing with that is it can take only one bit of bad luck or an unfortunate dismissal where he’s run out or something, and that can sometimes trigger a little bit of indecision or doubt. So hopefully in the first couple of Tests, we can create that doubt and get him wondering about his technique. We’ve obviously been watching him play over the last few months and just admired the way that he’s gone about it. He’s been extremely consistent and he’s gone on to score big hundreds, which is something he didn’t do very much in the early part of his career, but now he’s making big double hundreds and really winning the game for India.”
The mutual respect between the two isn’t something new. Last February, in Australia, Maxwell did an video interview of Kohli which said much about the equation the two share. The talk revolved from cricket played in that series to how Kohli handles sledging, and how the teams have great relationship these days. Kohli talked up Mitchell Starc as a “wonderful guy” and even praised James Faulkner as “competitive” despite constant run-ins on the field with him during the series.
There was this incident in one of the matches between the two. The talk went something like this. With Faulkner having a go at him, Kohli turned around to say, “You are wasting your energy. No point.” And Faulkner continued, “Having fun, are we?” And Kohli had the final word there, “I have smashed you enough. There is no point. Just go and bowl.” But he was laughing and Maxwell brought it up in the chat. “To be very honest, it has been a friendly banter. No bad or abuse words were used. Nothing inappropriate,” said Kohli. And Kohli brought up an incident in another game where he slipped and fell while taking a single and Faulkner helped him on his feet. “It was sweet of him,” said Kohli in that interview.
That chat was interesting in itself in how the two were really friendly with each other, but there was another thing that stood out. Kohli was in half-sleeves, his arms heavily tatooed, and there was this confidence that screamed out from him. Sitting beside him was Maxwell, who wasn’t necessarily in awe of him but a certain sense of respect (for Kohli) did come through.
In the decades gone by, it could well have been the other way: a confident alpha male Aussie, and an admiring Indian by the side. Times, they are changing.
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