Australia v India Tests
Hussey warns Aussies not to sledge Kohli
Mr Cricket says the formidable Test captain will be the prize Indian wicket when Australia visits the subcontinent
Former Test star Michael Hussey has counselled Australia’s players from verbally engaging with India’s explosive skipper Virat Kohli during the upcoming Test campaign.
Kohli has been India’s dominant batter since taking over the Test team leadership from his predecessor MS Dhoni who sensationally stood down in the aftermath of the Boxing Day Test at the MCG in 2014.
And it was during that match the Australians verbally targeted Kohli who, after scoring a then personal-best 169 in that drawn match, took aim at those Australia opponents with whom he had sparred during his innings.
"I respect quite a few of them but someone who doesn’t respect me I’ve got no reason to respect him," Kohli noted at the end of that day, with now retired fast bowler Mitchell Johnson among those unnamed Australia players clearly in his sights.
"They were calling me a spoiled brat and I said ‘maybe that’s the way I am, and I know you guys hate me’ … and it worked in my favour I guess.
"I like playing against Australia because it’s very hard for them to stay calm and I don’t mind an argument on the field."
Earlier in that series, which Australia won 2-0, Kohli had clashed with his current rival skipper Steve Smith during the opening Test at Adelaide, a spat that cost Kohli 30 per cent of his match fee.
The pair crossed paths again at the same venue during last summer’s KFC T20 INTL Series, when Kohli took exception to Smith’s role as an on-field commentator when batting and gave the Australia skipper a send-off when he was dismissed.
A gesture that Smith later described as unnecessary and uncalled for.
But Hussey, who averaged more on Asian soil than any other Australia batter to have played five Tests or more in those foreign conditions, has urged Smith and his team not to risk riling Kohli during the four-match Qantas Tour of India starting this month.
"I wouldn't try and fire him up," Hussey told cricket.com.au recently.
"I think he thrives on that and he's a real competitor.
"He loves being in the fight and loves the contest out in the middle.
"I'd make sure we have some very clear plans and we try and stick to them as best as we possibly can.
"There's no need to get involved in that sort of verbal barrage because I think that fires him up even more.
"You don't want to get carried away with too much talk and lose your concentration of what's important, which is executing your skills.
"The team that wins will be the one that can execute their skills at the highest quality and for the longest period of time.
"It's not going to be the team that's the most verbal or the most aggressive."
Since being officially installed as Test captain at the start of 2015, Kohli has scored more runs than any other India batter in the elite format – 1,855 runs at an average of almost 60 with six centuries (three of which he turned into double hundreds).
But his formidable record is overshadowed by Smith who, since formally taking the Test leadership from Michael Clarke after Australia’s failed 2015 Ashes campaign in the UK, has been the pre-eminent long-form batter in the world.
He has scored 1,657 runs at an average of almost 70 in 17 matches as captain, compiling six hundreds and eight half-centuries from his 29 innings as Australia’s Test skipper.
As a consequence, Hussey claims the individual battle between the rival captains will have a decisive say in the outcome of the series in India, where Australia has triumphed just once in a Test campaign in almost 50 years.
"From an Australian point of view, Kohli is public enemy No.1 and we have to get him out cheaply," Hussey said.
"If he gets in, he'll go big and score big runs.
"He's very confident at the moment, he knows the conditions so well and generally if he plays well, India win.
"And it's similar with Australia - Steve Smith and David Warner are the two most important batsmen in the Australian line-up and if they score runs, generally Australia go well.
"If they don't, the other batsmen are under enormous pressure.
"I'm sure India will be looking at Steve Smith as the key man they want to get out."
But in identifying Smith, the only Australia player to average above 30 on his team’s most recent Asian sojourn – the disastrous 0-3 Test loss to Sri Lanka last year - as the key wicket, Hussey has also advised the captain not to take on too great a burden.
The frustration that Smith felt during the Sri Lanka tour as his fellow top-order batters repeatedly failed against the home team’s three-pronged spin bowling attack became increasingly clear as the series wore on.
And Hussey believes that by placing such lofty expectations upon himself to show the way the way with the bat, Smith might run the risk of diluting his greatest strength.
Which is to be the lynchpin of his team’s batting.
"It's important that he doesn't put any more pressure on himself and think that he's got to be the one who has to score all the runs," Hussey said.
"He's just got to do his job, play his game, stick to his plan and try and score runs.
"I think it's a danger if he thinks he needs to take on more responsibility and put more pressure on himself to score the runs.
"I think then he'd be in danger and could get out cheaply.
"He's just one batter in that order who's trying to do a job."