Australia v India Tests
Kohli ramps up India's charm offensive
India captain discusses his friendship with Australian players on eve of series opener in Pune
Andrew Ramsey Pune
22 February 2017, 08:16 PM AEST
India captain Virat Kohli has embraced the charm offensive launched by his Australia opponents in the lead-up to the four-Test series starting tomorrow, and fired back his own sugar-coated bullet by revealing he is "really good friends" with his fiercest rivals when off the field.
Even before they arrived in Mumbai more than a week ago to begin their two-month Qantas Tour of India, the Australians expressed little other than admiration for Kohli, with whom a number of them share a volatile history.
Kohli and his rival captain Steve Smith have been involved in two heated exchanges in recent years, both at Adelaide Oval, and Australia's vice-captain David Warner has also landed himself in trouble during clashes against India.
If the tourists needed any reminding as to how destructive Kohli can be with the bat, they needed only look up from their breakfast tables this morning where – in the Pune hotel they are sharing with team India – the highlights of 'King' Kohli's recent Test double century against Bangladesh beamed from every flat screen TV.
After they were publicly counselled by former Test batter Michael Hussey against goading the combustible Kohli for fear of inciting him to even more phenomenal deeds.
And the Australians appear to have heeded that advice, by speaking in respectful – if not altogether breathless – terms whenever the inevitable questions about Kohli and their relationship with India's talismanic leader are raised.
"He's a class player, we know that," Smith said when Kohli's name was again floated on Test eve.
"He's been in terrific form the last 12-18 months.
"They (India) have got a lot of batters who are really good players as well.
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"You can't focus on the one, but we've got some plans in place for him that will hopefully work for us.
"If not we can go to plan B.
"He's a class player, if we can get him out cheaply it will help our cause."
But Kohli opted for an altogether different tune when quizzed about his views on members of the Australia team with whom he has already established lengthy rivalries.
Smith, Warner, Mitchell Starc with whom Kohli has shared a dressing room for several years at IPL franchise Royal Challenges Bangalore, and Glenn Maxwell, who had Kohli as a guest on an edition of his semi-regular 'Maxi's Blog' on cricket.com.au.
Kohli spoke about the depth of friendship he has established with players who stand in the opposite side of the divide on game days, and against whom he is hell bent on conquering during playing hours.
An image that sits squarely at odds with vision of Kohli sniping at Smith during a T20 International in Adelaide last summer, where he suggested the Australia captain's role as an on-field television commentator while batting had led to his downfall with the bat.
"I'm really good friends with all these guys off the field," Kohli said of his competitors over the coming Tests in Pune, Bengaluru, Ranchi and Dharamsala.
"I know them really well, but I know where to draw the line of friendship.
"When you step onto the field, I could be playing against my big brother, it wouldn't matter."
Kohli said he had no explanation as to why the Australians had opted not to fire a few pre-series barbs in his direction, in keeping with recent on-field relations.
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"It's fine, if they (the Australia players) had of criticised me I would have been OK with it," he said today.
"It's not something coming out of my mouth, so I have no control over it.
"I am focused and very aware of what I need to do.
"I don't know the reason for it. There might not be any reason.
"I don't want to sit here and speculate, but I can say I'm really good friends with these guys off the field.
"We get along really well. And on the field we're professional enough to understand it's going to be a competition."
What Kohli also understands is the pressure and expectation that comes with leading a nation of more than 1.3 billion that is not so much obsessed by cricket (the only national sport with a major professional profile), but success in cricket of all forms.
Failure in any individual match, and more so in a series or tournament, generates immediate and voluble calls for change, and not even a player of Kohli's unquestioned prowess is immune from calls for his removal should fortune swing against him.
So when his rival skipper Smith was asked at his pre-match media conference whether a series loss in India – where Australia has triumphed just once in almost 50 years – might prove terminal for his leadership, he was momentarily caught off guard.
"Every series matters to me, as the leader of the team we want to do well and I want to do well personally to help our team have success," Smith said before addressing the specific query.
"I'll take it series by series, but I'd like to stay in my job for as long as I can."