CommBank Test Series v India
Kohli keeps talking, even after play
India’s star batsman Virat Kohli tells Aussies they haven’t learned their lesson
Much was made and even more written of the consequences that flowed from the India players’ – including outspoken batsman Virat Kohli’s - goading of Mitchell Johnson which swung the equilibrium and ultimately the outcome of the previous Test in Brisbane.
As he left the MCG tonight with the figures of 1-133 against his name and the endless stream of Kohli’s words as well as few well-placed non-verbals swirling about him, Johnson had fair cause to ponder how it came to pass that the ‘shoo’ so quickly shifted to the other foot.
And if Kohli’s actions in crafting a Test-best tally of 169 spoke even louder than the words the pair repeatedly exchanged and the kisses that India’s star batsman blew at his rival late in the day, then his observations at the end-of-day media conference shrieked even more volubly still.
In a refreshingly candid question and answer session that was as disarming as it will doubtlessly prove distasteful to his already bitter rivals, Kohli made no attempt to swathe his true feelings about some members of the Australian team in sport’s traditional diplomatic clichés.
“I respect quite a few of them but someone who doesn’t respect me I’ve got no reason to respect him,” Kohli said with an unflinching and incisive straightness that he had earlier shown with the cover drive that raised his third century of this Commonwealth Bank Series.
“It was going on throughout the day.
“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.
“It really excites me and brings the best out of me, so they don’t seem to be learning their lesson.”
While Kohli’s volatility and refusal to take a backward step cost him 30 per cent of his captain’s match fee after being involved in a toe-to-toe spat with Steve Smith during the opening Test in Adelaide, the Australians apparently don’t believe riling him will heighten his already prodigious batting skills.
They have continued to chip and chirp him, but that animosity escalated several notches yesterday when Kohli played a Johnson delivery back to the bowler, turned to retrace the step and half he had taken out of his crease and was hit slap on the backside by Johnson’s full-blooded throw.
Kohli collapsed at the crease, the Australian issued an apology and the game appeared to continue unhindered until over’s end when the pair crossed paths mid-pitch and Kohli let fly a similarly unrestrained verbal barrage that led umpire Kettleborough to eventually step in and signal a truce.
“I was really annoyed with him (Johnson) hitting me with the ball and I told him that’s not on – try and hit the stumps next time, not my body,” Kohli explained later, once more ignoring the accepted covenant that what happens on field stays there.
Until such time as players retire and earn a living speaking at sportsmen’s nights.
The flare up seemed to unsettle Kohli who immediately after flashed a boundary through the slip cordon and then – in Johnson’s subsequent over – offered the first and only genuine chance of his memorable innings when he edged a low catch that Shane Watson was unable to grasp at slip.
From where they sat in the Channel Nine commentary box, incumbent albeit injured Australia captain Michael Clarke and former skipper Ian Chappell were pretty sure in whose favour the stoush was likely to be scored.
“It might just crank Mitch’s pace up a bit,” Clarke observed.
Chappell’s assessment was even more definitive.
“Some players seem to get better when they become involved in an altercation but it seems to me that Virat Kohli would be better off avoiding them,” Chappell said shortly after the clearly steamed Indian batsman was granted his reprieve.
But Kohli gathered himself, Johnson finished his potentially vital first spell with the second new ball and the man who almost led India to a famous victory in Adelaide duly reached his ton with another of those exquisite, along the carpet drives to the extra cover rope.
“I just backed myself,” Kohli replied when asked, as was posed to others during the Brisbane Test, if he was concerned that provoking Johnson might prove counter-productive.
“He was going at 4.7 (runs) per over today and didn’t get a wicket throughout the day, and I backed myself that I could take him on even if I keep talking to him.
“That’s important, you can’t then back off after saying a few words and not show it with your skill so I decided that whenever he comes on to bowl I was going to back myself and take him on.
“I don’t mind giving a word back and neither does he, so it kept going on.”
By tea, India were rattling along at 3-336 in pursuit of 530 with both Kohli and his batting partner Ajinkya Rahane unbeaten century makers while Johnson carried the unwanted bowler’s return of 100-plus runs with no wickets for the first time at Test level since 2010.
After the break, the Australian’s patience was tested further when Kohli – who appeared to be troubled by cramps in both arms – had drinks and medical treatment ferried out to him at virtually the end of each over.
But not only did he bat through, he quite deliberately issued another pointed riposte to critics in the press box who liked to draw attention to his apparent inability to post a Test score above 120.
And he could have resumed his innings as well as his running verbal battle with the team he thrives on annoying tomorrow morning if he had not aimed a tired slash at a full, wide delivery that proved to be the last of the day and Johnson’s first wicket of the match.
As it is, he now has a new Test benchmark against his name, the drive to turn his next “big hundred” into a double century and some final observations to make about suggestions the Australians have their opponents’ measure and a firm grip in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy that they lost in a disastrous four-nil whitewash in India last year.
“Good for them,” Kohli responded when asked if he saw any undercurrent of over-confidence or conceit in the attitude of the home team.
“They have the right to talk I guess because they are two-nil up as of now.
“It’s funny in cricket, when you are on top you can say anything you want.
“It’s when the chips are down that you’ve got to stand up and say what you have to say and then go out there and prove it.
“When we played in India (last year) there was not so many words coming back from them which was very surprising.
“We are two-nil down here but we still took them on today and showed what we can do with the bat, which is the character of this Indian team.”
And while his feud with Johnson has a Test match and a bit, as well as a Carlton Mid ODI Series and a ICC Cricket World Cup to run in this Australian summer, Kohli also put on notice any team that might decide – having learned from today’s tactics – to play the silent card and not engage him in any on-field banter.
“Well you always have a few (players) that can’t keep calm in every team,” he smiled.
“So I have my targets.”