‘Do no sledge Virat Kohli’, this is the only mantra former Australian fast bowler Jason Gillespie has for his team ahead of the five-match ODI series between India and Australia. Gillespie was part of one of the furious bowling attacks of all-time including the likes of Glen McGrath, Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz. He played under captains like Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting who believed in the idea of sledging and often used it to defend the opposition. The Australian team of that era didn’t even spare the great Sachin Tendulkar but, Gillespie knows that Virat Kohli isn’t an ordinary batsman. The Indian skipper is in a league of his own and sledging is no way of trying to break him down.
Australia has a long love affair with Virat Kohli that goes long back to December 2014 when James Faulkner tried to get involved in a verbal spat. “Go bowl. Don’t waste your energy. There’s no point. I’ve smashed you enough in my life. Go bowl!” was the reply from a focused Kohli. This is as epic as it gets.
Since then, the Aussies have been nothing less than obsessed with Virat Kohli and a fine example of that was Australia’s tour of India earlier this year. The trouble started when Australian spinner Nathan Lyon who picked 8 wickets on Day 1 of the Bengaluru Test called Kohli the head of the snake. “Everybody wants to compete against the best and he [Kohli] is one of the best players in the world. He is obviously the head of the snake if you want to put it in Dale Steyn’s terms,” Lyon had said in a post-match conference.
Here is what vice-captain Rohit Sharma said ahead of 1st ODI:
— BCCI (@BCCI) September 15, 2017
Soon, the former Australian players jumped into the debate with Ian Healy calling the Indian skipper disrespectful of his opponents. The Australia media didn’t spare Kohli either. An Australian daily compared the Indian captain to the US President Donald Trump. “Virat Kohli has become the Donald Trump of world sport. Just like President Trump, Kohli decided to blame the media as a means of trying to hide the egg smeared right across his face”, read an article in the Daily Telegraph.
Yes, Kohli failed in that series but that didn’t stop India from lifting the trophy. Other batsmen stepped up when needed and while the visitors were busy making a strategy for Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane led the side to a brilliant victory in the final Test in the former’s absence.
But, when you look closely Australia’s frustration is understandable. For almost two decades they dominated the cricketing arena with hardly anyone challenging that spot. However, here’s a man who refuses to bow down, who is giving them a tough fight, who is equally aggressive and beating them at their own game.
In 23 ODIs so far, Virat has scored 1002 runs against Australia including five hundreds. When the two sides met for an ODI series last time around, he had smashed the Aussies for 381 runs in 5 games. Not just this, he has scored half-centuries in each of the last four T20 Internationals against them since 2016.
— Paytm (@Paytm) September 13, 2017
One man was able to identify the reason behind this great Australian obsession with Virat Kohli. Former captain Michael Clarke said, “I always somehow find an Australian in him the way he plays and I absolutely love how he accepts challenges. It’s just two or three reporters who are trying to tarnish him but Virat shouldn’t be bothered.”
Slowly but steadily the Aussies are learning. “I am not too concerned about the differences with Kohli. He is obviously a very good player and has a phenomenal ODI record. Hopefully, we can keep him quiet as much as possible in this series. If we do that then hopefully it can go a long way in us having success on this tour,” Smith told reporters ahead of the 1st ODI.
Despite that statement, it is hard to believe that when India and Australia take the field in Chennai on Sunday, a few shots won’t be fired. The Virat Kohli obsession has let Australia down in the past and that might well be the case this time around too.