“…it’s trying to get him out of the strong emotional state and try and make him, I guess, a little bit angry and ruffle his feathers… if you can get him in that state then the Indian team can possibly be a little bit vulnerable.”
Australian captain Steve Smith had declared his strategy against Virat Kohli in November, three months before the series started. India’s emphatic victory against England in all three formats had put Kohli’s team as the favourites to win the four-match Test series against Aussies – especially at home. India had gone 19 matches unbeaten when the Test against Bangladesh culminated. Veteran Aussie all-rounder Michael Hussey warned that irking Kohli might not be in the best interests of the away side since the aggressive Indian captain “thrives” on such situations.
But after India lost the first Test match in Pune by 333 runs, beaten by Australia with their own game of spin bowling, it did not take much to get the Indian skipper fuming. Kohli, who dominated 2016, scoring 1215 runs at an average of 75.93., got out on a duck in the first innings, and added only 13 runs to the total in the second innings. It was a terrible game for the skipper, with him scoring his least total score in a Test match at home in which he came out to bat in both the innings.
The failure of the first Test perhaps played on Kohli’s mind as he again failed to capitalise on the first day pitch at Chinnaswamy stadium in Bengaluru in the second Test match, scoring only 12 runs. While Kohli merely laughed off Ishant Sharma and Steve Smith’s theatrics on the field during the second day of the Test, the skipper failed to find any humour on the final day after Smith was caught trying to seek advice from the dressing room on DRS review after he was adjudged LBW by the umpire.
Even after India beat Australia to level the series, Kohli did not budge from slamming Smith and stopped short of calling his opposite number a “cheat” in the post match conference. “I don’t want to mention the word but it falls in that bracket. I would never do something like that on the cricket field.” With his team being criticised for making bad DRS calls in the first two Test matches, Kohli said that at least he does not get reviews checked from the dressing room. Smith retaliated by describing the allegations that Aussies have continuously broken DRS protocols as “completely rubbish”.
The focus shifted back to the Indian captain on the third day of the third Test at Ranchi when Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay came out to bat. The controversies surrounding Kohli followed him when he came out in the balcony to clap after the opposition “wasted” both their DRS reviews early in the first session. With his focus perhaps not completely on the game, Kohli again got out cheaply early in the second session, unnecessarily touching a ball going outside off and getting caught at slip after adding merely six runs to the total. The controversy erupted when explosive Australian batsmen Glenn Maxwell was caught on camera “mocking” Kohli’s shoulder injury.
Instead of forgetting the incident a day later, Kohli again showed that his temperament is slightly compromised, when he sought out “revenge”, after all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja bowled out Aussie opener David Warner. Kohli aggressively tapped his shoulders while celebrating the wicket.
As the series continues to heat up, Kohli appears to be the one most affected by it. It seems the Australian skipper has succeeded in “ruffling the feathers”. While Kohli averages a meager 9.20 with 46 total runs in the series so far, his Aussie counterpart has scored 381 runs in the three matches at an average of 74.20. Kohli’s stats are worse than they were in the four-match Test series against England in 2014, in which the then vice-captain scored 108 runs in the tournament, which was his first phase in Test cricket.
Kohli has also received backlash for his decision making in the series, with him deciding to keep off Jadeja from bowling till late during the first innings of the first Test match. His DRS review calls have also been questioned by critics.
The series which was touted to be one-sided before it began, has turned into a hot mess. As both the teams have won a game each in the tournament, and the third Test has ended in a draw, the stage is set for an epic encounter at Dharamsala. But, for India’s benefit, it is important that the skipper comes out on the field with a fresh mind and keeps his focus on cricket, rather than on petty fights with the opposition. Kohli needs to get back on top of things, if India is to attain a comfortable win on the hills to clinch the series.