It has been said that the most important man in Australia after the Prime Minister is the Australian cricket team captain. But that may well have changed with the arrival of Virat Kohli’s men in Australia for one of the most eagerly awaited cricket series in recent memory. (More Cricket News)
Kohli’s picture is everywhere on Australian national media and is probably the most recognised face in the country right now. He is presently synonymous with India and it almost appears as if it is going to be Australia Vs Kohli instead of Australia Vs India.
A bit like the ‘Indira is India’ slogan of the 70s. Rarely, if ever, has there been so much hype and build up over one single visiting player in Australia in living memory.
Kohli - A Man In A Hurry
The intensity, energy and competitiveness that he brings to the team with his own brand of aggressive cricket is already indelibly stamped over this tour and will continue to remain so as its defining parameter, even after his return midway through it after the first Test. In that sense he is a man in a hurry and needs to grab the series with both hands as soon as it gets underway and engrave his performance and authority over it in a way that will motivate and propel his side forward even after he has left.
Langer hails Kohli's baby move. Photo - AP
Rarely, if ever, has there been so much chopping and changing, injuries and replacements, hope and disappointment for an Indian team and its fans, in recent times. There was hope that even after Virat leaves, stalwarts Rohit and Ishant Sharma would be available for the Tests, to bolster up the side but the chances of that look bleak right now.
Rohit especially, who has been such a huge influence on India’s white-ball victories over Australia in the past, will also be sorely missed. There is a lot of optimism around some of the younger players stepping up to plug the breach but these would be big boots to fill, not just in terms of talent and ability, but for the sheer aura and charisma that surrounds these players at this time.
A Darker Shade Of Blue
The team has been training alone in a cordoned-off stadium, a long way off from the bright lights, away from the media glare. This Friday, the Boys In Blue will emerge wearing a darker shade of blue from behind the cordons and the quarantine to play at the Sydney Cricket Ground, led out by the skipper. They will play in front of a live crowd for the first time, after months of playing in front of empty stands and neatly folded back seats.
Imaginative 'retro' theme shirt, inspired by the 70s. Photo - BCCI
The four Test matches will obviously be the most defining and looked forward to part of the series, but the intense mental battle will start right from the first white-ball game onwards, and according to former cricketers, whichever team stamps their authority over those games will carry that momentum forward into the Test matches and a winning start would be near impossible to reverse in the later games, especially for the visiting team.
Which is why it is imperative for Kohli to lead from the front and perform in these matches and snatch the initiative for his team. Often One-day and T20 series are mere appendages to the Test matches, but for the first time perhaps, that will not be the case. And in that sense the white-ball games will be unique in their intensity and psychological significance, leading into the Test matches.
Mayank Agarwal, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul, Hardik Pandya, are all ready and raring to go with the bat. They would each be looking at establishing their credentials on one of the most demanding stages of international cricket. In the bowling department, after the wickets in the UAE, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami would want to exploit the lively Australian pitches to the hilt. They would be backed up by the spinners and the newcomers, all looking at making a mark. This bunch of Indian cricketers are no longer wary of the intensity and tough conditions of an Australian tour thanks to the intense settings of the IPL.
New mainstays? KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and Hardik Pandya. Photo - BCCI
Not to forget the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara who literally batted Australia out of the series the last time around, quietly preparing for the Test matches in the background, patiently biding his time for his turn to shine on the big stage again. All of them will be looking at the absence of the bigger stars as an opportunity.
For Australia, there is a relief that things are back to normal with the batting revolving around Aaron Finch, David Warner, Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell in the white-ball games. Not to mention the solid consistency of Marnus Labuschagne and the new comers, should they get a look in. The bowling attack is back to full strength too, built around Mitchell Starc, Patrick Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Adam Zampa. They will be backed up by the all-rounders Ashton Agar and Marcus Stoinis and the wicketkeepers Alex Carey and Matthew Wade.
This is a bunch of top-class players who have been deprived of national action for a long time. They will all have a point to prove, to themselves and to their respective countries and fans, which should make for some riveting international cricket.
And once this fascinating contest gets underway in right earnest, a part of the bleak grimness of a depressing year will surely get erased or pushed into the background, as viewers feel the sap rising once more at the intensity and quality of the action on display.
Win or lose, either way, cricket will be the victor.
(The writer, a retired Wing Commander and played Ranji Trophy for the Services team. Views are personal)