Kohli spotlight as Ind look to shine Down Under

Australia have focused solely on Kohli as they prepare for the Test series against India. FILE PHOTO

As India and Australia brace up for a big battle from December 6 here, it appears as though the contest is all about one man. At least from the hosts’ point of view.

Virat Kohli, world’s leading batsman, dominates newspapers columns and television debates Down Under. Topics are diverse, but they mostly concern the Indian skipper. How to get him out? Should Australia get under his skin or stay free of any on-field confrontation with him? There are encomiums about his marauding run in Australia and analyses about his vulnerability against the moving ball. While it may seem too much focus on one man, all the brouhaha around him isn’t without a reason.

Kohli hasn’t merely walked the walk, he has talked the talk and walked the talk as well, especially against Australia in Australia. The last time he toured here for the Test series, the right-hander laid waste to their attack though he couldn’t prevent his team’s 0-2 series loss. It was a series marked by never-ending on-field verbal war between Kohli and a few Australian players and stunning batting displays by the World No 1 Test batsman.

Not many had come to Australia previously and taken them on in this manner – giving a mouthful and then stacking up runs. He became Australia’s public enemy No 1; he was panned in the media and booed by the public.      

Four years later and probably that much wiser by the experience, Kohli has returned to Australia as a calmer person. A haughty youngster has seemingly transformed into a man who no longer wants to make it all about himself. His interactions so far at least suggest as much. Is it a temporary façade or a permanent cloak? We will know soon but the spotlight is going to be firmly on him. Whether he scores or not and whether India win or not.

The first Test will set the tone for him and the series and Kohli couldn’t have asked for a better venue to start. What Chennai is to Sachin Tendulkar, Adelaide is to Kohli. From his first Test here in 2011-12 to India’s sojourn in 2014-15, he has notched up four centuries (three in Tests and one in an ODI against Pakistan). The last time India played a Test here, Kohli struck 116 and 145, taking the team almost home.  

Overall, Kohli has scored 992 runs in 8 Tests (16 innings) in Australia with five hundreds and two fifties. His average of 62 in Australia is his best in any country outside India barring New Zealand (averages 71.33 in New Zealand but has played only two Tests there). Among the Asian batsmen, Kohli averages the best in Australia, having raced ahead of Kumar Sangakkara (60.33).   

These figures show how important Kohli is to India’s batting fortunes and put in right perspective the resultant focus on him. This, however maybe a blessing in disguise for other batsmen who can bat without much pressure, a point Ajinkya Rahane seemed to agree with.

“(It’s) difficult to answer that,” Rahane said, reflecting on his big stand with Kohli in the Melbourne Test in 2014. “Last time both of us really enjoyed that partnership at MCG, batting together because Mitchell Johnson was going after Virat and I was enjoying from the other end, and also playing my game. But as an individual you have to understand that everyone’s role is completely different. Virat at the other end he was really aggressive, and was going after the bowlers verbally as well. That really helped me and focus on my game and played my natural attacking game. But I was completely opposite to Virat,” he reasoned.

With the Test series touching distance away, it will be fascinating to witness Kohli on the stages Down Under, as a batsman and as a leader.

 

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Kohli spotlight as Ind look to shine Down Under

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