Domain Tests v India
Ponting reveals plan to unsettle Kohli
The Australian great provides a detailed insight into how to quell the Indian captain
3 December 2018, 09:29 PM AEST
A floating slip, a strong temperament, boundary riders and a touch of Jimmy Anderson magic.
They're the ingredients Ricky Ponting says Australia will need this summer if they hope to stop firebrand Virat Kohli during the upcoming Domain Test series against India.
As the annual pre-Test series debate over on-field conduct and sledging rages over the airwaves and around dinner tables across the country, Ponting stressed skill – and not words – is what will decide the Border-Gavaskar Trophy Australia handed over in India last year.
The hosts' biggest obstacle to achieving that is Kohli, India's electric and sometimes belligerent captain universally regarded as the world's best batsman across all formats.
But beyond the body language and bouncers, Ponting offered a fascinating and detailed strategic insight into how best to slay the Kohli dragon.
Despite India's series win over Australia in 2017, the right-hander had a rare poor campaign at the crease, managing just 46 runs at nine – statistically the worst series of his Test career.
Since then, Kohli has averaged 73 with the bat and managed eight tons from 16 Tests, while on India's last tour down under he pummelled 692 runs at 86, and Ponting believes that 2017 series is the kind of blueprint Australia need to closely study if they hope to stop him.
As are the tactics used on Kohli by the likes of Anderson, the England fast bowler who's dismissed him five times, the joint-most (along with Stuart Broad and Nathan Lyon) of any Test bowler.
"The first thing I'd be doing is going back and looking at how anyone has stopped him in the past," Ponting told cricket.com.au. "Who has had the most success against Virat Kohli and why?
"The first one that comes to mind is someone like a James Anderson, who's probably had the most success against him. From what I've watched over the years, he seems to trouble him the most.
"If the ball is not moving, he's going to be really hard to get out. With someone like him who likes to score freely, he's obviously got a big ego but there's other things you can do.
"You can put a few fielders out (on the boundary) early on, don't let him get any boundaries. Maybe don't go as aggressive at him early on. Try to bowl lots of tight, consistent stuff.
"He likes to run the ball down to third man a lot as well, so maybe just play around with some guys in different areas which might just get inside his head as to what we're trying to do.
"Bring your third (slip) or your floating slip up a little tighter because he tends to play with soft hands and run the ball down there.
"Just so he's got to think about it and show that we're ready and prepared for what he can do. I think there's little things that might just get inside his mind."
Kohli was a chief protagonist in both on- and off-field dramas the last time the two sides met in the longest format, suggesting friendships had been broken after India fought back from a shock defeat in the first Test to claim the series 2-1.
While a school of thought has emerged that Kohli is the proverbial bear best left unpoked, Ponting believes his aggression could backfire and cited his fiery battles with former tearaway Mitchell Johnson as precedent.
But while Ponting says Australia shouldn't be shy of a confrontation with Kohli, hostility with the ball will ultimately be the key to unsettling India this summer.
"I don't necessarily believe that you shouldn't try to get under his skin," Ponting said of Kohli.
"Mitchell Johnson definitely rattled him a few times with some good, hostile bowling and some good, hostile body language around him.
"We shouldn't sit back and let anyone bully the way we go about playing our cricket, especially at home. They're in our backyard.
"The great Australian teams that I played in always had a few words to say, but it was always on the back of some good, hostile bowling first.
"You can't do it (verbals) without it – it's just rubbish otherwise. You have to be able to impose yourself on the game in a way other than using your mouth.
"You've got to use your actions and your skills and if they do that, then they can definitely unsettle him."
Given the absence of Australia's best two batsmen in Steve Smith and David Warner, many believe India mayhave never had a better opportunity to notch a maiden Test series triumph on Australian soil.
India have held the mantle as the world's No.1 Test team for more than two years but aside from a trio of victories in the Caribbean, they've lost their past eight Test series outside the subcontinent.
It's a factor Ponting says adds to the scrutiny for the world's No.1 ranked Test side.
"With that expectation (of defeating Australia) comes pressure," continued Ponting. "He likes the pressure, Virat, because he's been there, he's an experienced guy that's had a lot of success.
"A lot of their other guys haven't, a lot of other guys haven't had that much success, certainly away from home.
"They've got their own challenges, there's no doubt about it."
Chief among those challenges is the make-up of their bowling attack, according to Ponting.
While Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami form arguably the most potent pace attack India have ever brought to Australia, the former Test skipper points out India have historically relied on their spinners to win Tests.
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have incredible records at home but Ponting believes left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav, who starred in the recent Gillette T20 series against Australia, could give them their best chance at consistently taking 20 wickets.
"India have a big decision to make there over what spinner they go with. I think Kuldeep Yadav can do a good job in Australia," said Ponting.
"Ashwin's record in Australia is not great, he doesn't turn the ball in Australia anywhere near what he does anywhere else in the world. They've always got Jadeja in their line-up as well who needs to have wickets that spin.
"But a leg-spinner like Kuldeep – as we know, leg-spinners can turn it on anything – he's a little bit different in the way that he bowls, he's got good variations as we've seen in the games he's played here already.
"Their spinners are such a vital part of their Test match success. If their spinners don't bowl well and don't get wickets then it's going to be up to their quicks and we'll see if they're good enough."
Domain Test Series v India
Dec 6-10: First Test, Adelaide Oval
Dec 14-18: Second Test, Perth Stadium
Dec 26-30: Third Test, MCG
Jan 3-7: Fourth Test, SCG
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c, wk), Josh Hazlewood (vc), Mitch Marsh (vc), Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Chris Tremain
India squad: Virat Kohli (c), Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (wk), Parthiv Patel (wk), Ravi Ashwin, Ravi Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar