Vodafone Test Series v India
Cool Kohli welcomes warmer relations with Aussie rivals
Virat Kohli and Australia have had their run-ins, but the Indian skipper now believes the days of acrimony and enmity are consigned to the past
Andrew Ramsey in Adelaide
16 December 2020, 06:55 PM AEST
India's superstar captain Virat Kohli might be in Australia for one Test only, but don't expect him to come and go in a fireball of combativeness and controversy.
Kohli, who will return to India at the conclusion of the first Vodafone Test at Adelaide Oval for the birth of his first child with wife Anushka Sharma, has been involved in numerous on-field run-ins with Australian opponents since taking over his country's captaincy here in 2014.
But the 32-year-old, ranked second among Test batters in the world behind Australia's Steve Smith, believes the days of acrimony and enmity that reached its nadir after a heated series in India in 2017 are largely consigned to the past.
It was after the final Test of that 2017 tour, which India won 2-1 but Kohli ended with an injury to nurse and an axe to grind, that he claimed friendships with some Australia players he had initially felt transcended cricket had been damaged irrevocably.
Almost four years later, and with India holding the Border-Gavaskar Trophy they successfully defended with their first Test series win in Australia two summers ago, Kohli believes relations between the teams have normalised and are unlikely to be stretched during this campaign.
And while he points to the increased presence of Australian players in Indian Premier League franchises over recent years and a shift in the way Australia approaches its cricket as reasons, he also identifies the changes wrought by the pandemic that forced the game into global hiatus.
"This year has also made people realise a lot of things that might not have been necessary in the past, where you hold grudges or you have unnecessary tension between teams or individuals, is absolutely pointless," Kohli said in his pre-game media conference this evening.
"Everyone is just grateful for the opportunity to be back on the field.
"It's not like the games haven't been as intense or as competitive, it's just the unnecessary stuff that has been filtered out and I feel like there's much more respect between the sides.
"You're still going to be professional and make sure you're positive and aggressive in your body language and the way you go about things on the field.
"There's going to be tension, there's going to be stress, there's going to be emotions flaring now and then.
"But I don’t foresee anything getting personal any more.
"And all of us getting smarter and a few more years into our careers, so we're going to make better choices.
"Also, because of the fact we all understand we're contributing to a larger cause, it's the quality of cricket that has to stand out."
The notion that the age of social distancing might bring the heated rivals closer together seems counter-intuitive.
However, Kohli emanated a decidedly more relaxed demeanour during the preceding Dettol Series ODI and T20I fixtures – with Australia winning the former and India the latter – without ever betraying the ultra-competitiveness that has defined his cricket character.
And in the days before his sole Test appearance of the Vodafone Series, Kohli sat down with Smith – his opposing captain in that incendiary 2017 campaign – for a relaxed chat about batting, mutual respect and the game that both unites and consumes them.
That new-found camaraderie was underscored when Kohli was asked today whether the lower-back troubles that have hampered Smith's preparations in the days leading into tomorrow's Vodafone Series opener might elicit a change of plans from India.
Specifically, Kohli was quizzed if the sight of Smith being potentially inconvenienced by back soreness would see Kohli instruct his fast bowlers to pepper Australia's best batter with bouncers, to further exploit any restricted movement.
"I don't think the back has got anything to do with us changing our plans to him, or any other batter," Kohli said.
"Our plans are pretty much sorted and ready for all the batters we're going to come up against, and we have to make sure we execute those plans as consistently and efficiently as possible.
"We're not focused on whether their players are going to start or not, we can only worry about what we can do as a team."
For Australia's part, they also effectively shouldered arms when offered the opportunity to apply heat to India's premier batter and talismanic leader ahead of his single outing in such a crucial series.
In the ground-breaking documentary series 'The Test', Kohli's captaincy rival for the previous (and upcoming) series, Tim Paine, counselled his players against engaging verbally with Kohli on the field for fear of further inflaming the Indian maestro's genius.
This time round, Paine acknowledged that – even with Kohli available for only one Test – there was a chance their best-laid plans might not work, although he reserved the right to engage their opponents should the pre-Test truce lapse.
"Everyone's got great plans for getting all the best players out, but that's why they are the best," Paine said when asked if Australia felt they had worked out ways to quell Kohli.
"They can adapt, they can change with what you're doing, and Virat is certainly one of the best players, if not the best player in the world.
"There's going to be a time … when you play against players as good as Virat that they do get away from you.
"That's just the game.
"In terms of what goes on on the field, we’ll have to wait and see.
"We certainly don’t go into it planning to have run-ins or be overly aggressive.
"We just go out trying to execute our skills with bat and ball.
"As we all know, at times on cricket fields, things can be a little bit willing.
"If that is the case, then there’s no doubt that this team will not be taking a backward step."
Vodafone Test Series v India 2020-21
Australia Test squad: Tim Paine (c), Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Moises Henriques, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Will Pucovski, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade, David Warner
India Test squad: Virat Kohli (c) (first Test only), Ajinkya Rahane (vice-captain), Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari, Shubman Gill, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Rishabh Pant (wk), Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Siraj
Second Test: December 26-30, MCG, 10.30am AEDT
Third Test: January 7-11, SCG, 10.30am AEDT
Fourth Test: January 15-19, Gabba, 11am AEDT