Vi­rat Kohli and team play con­fi­dently. Bharat Sun­dare­san asks: will it help them win away?

Un­der Vi­rat Kohli, In­dia has adopted a more as­sertive ap­proach to its cricket. But as Bharat Sun­dare­san asks, will their con­fi­dence be val­i­dated by a big Test se­ries vic­tory away from home?

On Septem­ber 5, Tim Paine was quoted in a news­pa­per on how his play­ers were work­ing to­wards be­com­ing “bet­ter peo­ple” and mak­ing their coun­try­men proud by be­ing “Aus­tralia’s team”. Co­in­ci­den­tally on the same day, a few hours later, In­dian coach Ravi Shas­tri would in­sist in a press con­fer­ence at Lon­don that his team had played bet­ter away from home than any of their pre­de­ces­sors in the “last 15 years”.

The two state­ments, un­re­lated as they might have been, that emerged from the two camps were how­ever sig­nif­i­cant. They vividly show­cased the re­spec­tive mind­sets and en­deav­ours of the two teams. In many ways, they also were in­dica­tive of the role-re­ver­sal that seems to have taken place over the last 10 months or so. Here was an Aus­tralian cap­tain reek­ing of mod­esty and ask­ing his play­ers to fol­low suit. And there was a for­mer In­dian cap­tain talk­ing up his team, with all the brag­gado­cio and bravura so stereo­typ­i­cal of Aussie teams of the past, de­spite them hav­ing lost yet an­other im­por­tant se­ries away from home.

And it will be this un­prece­dented clash of in­verted cul­tures that will light up the up­com­ing Aus­tralian sum­mer. Vi­rat Kohli will lead an In­dian team that prides it­self on be­ing “in-your-face”, on be­ing driven by “in­tent” on and off the field, and one that is vo­cally “des­per­ate” to win over­seas. Iron­i­cally, it’ll come at a time when Aus­tralian cricket is un­der­go­ing an at­ti­tu­di­nal meta­mor­pho­sis, which is based around play­ing down, even if only slightly, those very at­tributes that de­fined them till the ball-tam­per­ing scan­dal, and now de­fine their vis­i­tors who ar­rive in Novem­ber. It prom­ises to be a bat­tle be­tween “Aus­tralia’s team” and a very “Aus­tralian” In­dian team.

It’s an Aussie team that will be ob­vi­ously weak­ened by the ab­sence of Steve Smith and David Warner, who four years ago were scor­ing cen­turies for fun against this very same In­dian at­tack. The lack of bat­ting might in the Aussie camp will give In­dia hope of a maiden se­ries tri­umph. But Kohli & Co have gone into their last two big away tours un­der the same premise – that the home team are at their weak­est ever and are hence ripe for the tak­ing. South Africa and Eng­land too had their own bat­ting wor­ries, and to an ex­tent they were ex­posed by In­dia’s new­found fast-bowl­ing prow­ess. But the In­dian bats­men didn’t back their bowlers enough and both se­ries were lost with a Test to spare, bury­ing talks of this be­ing In­dia’s “best chance” in both cases.

So the In­di­ans will know that

their op­po­si­tion’s per­ceived weak­ness could well be a draw­back for them, con­sid­er­ing the ex­pec­ta­tions it breeds among their sup­port­ers and their own play­ers. In­dia has been ranked

No.1 in Tests for a while now. But with no over­seas se­ries wins – save ones in the Caribbean and Sri Lanka – of note in their grasp, they are presently akin to a top-ranked ten­nis player who’s fal­tered at the Grand Slams, as far as their de­trac­tors are con­cerned any­way.

This is also one se­ries that this bunch un­der Kohli and Shas­tri wouldn’t want to lose. Not after the “brain fades” and abun­dance of con­tro­versy dur­ing Aus­tralia’s tour to In­dia in early 2017. The In­dian camp them­selves suf­fered a few brain fades in terms of se­lec­tion on the tour to

Eng­land – be it go­ing in with two spin­ners in seamer-friendly con­di­tions at Lord’s, or play­ing an un­der-par spin­ner on a turn­ing track at Southamp­ton. And they paid for them dearly.

The se­lec­tors seem to have made amends in a way by pick­ing a squad for the home se­ries against West Indies which seems to be on board with the team’s bom­bast about want­ing to win away. Peren­nial over­seas un­der-per­former Shikhar Dhawan has fi­nally been given the boot, with the likes of teenager Prithvi Shaw and pro­lific do­mes­tic run-get­ter Mayank Agar­wal be­ing roped in with an eye on the tougher chal­lenge later this year. There has also been talk of the BCCI ask­ing for bouncier tracks at Ra­jkot and Hy­der­abad, where the two home

Tests are be­ing played.

The last tour to Aus­tralia in 2014-15 – where Kohli took over for the first Test as a stand-in for MS Dhoni, and at Syd­ney as the full-time ap­pointee – was seen as a wa­ter­shed out­ing for this present gen­er­a­tion of In­dian crick­eters. And the in­cred­i­ble run-chase, which even­tu­ally ended up in vain, at the Ade­laide Oval was seen as the defin­ing mo­ment for In­dian cricket’s hopes abroad. Kohli in fact held on to the im­age of him in the mid­dle with the Ade­laide Oval score­board in the back­ground as his Twit­ter pro­file pic­ture for nearly a year.

But if Ade­laide is what made this team, as Shas­tri and Kohli love to say, Ade­laide could well break it this time around. It’s where the In­di­ans start their cam­paign this time around again. A loss in the open­ing Test against this Aussie line-up could well break the back of this bold unit, es­pe­cially in the caul­dron that is Aus­tralia. It will also sub­se­quently em­bolden the Aussies, even if they are ex­pected to doff their tra­di­tional


“win-at-all-costs” men­tal­ity, to rub it in.

Four years ago, we saw a feisty se­ries when both teams kept talk­ing about and defin­ing the “line” of games­man­ship and then kept cross­ing it re­gard­less. And the In­di­ans will come hard at their arch-neme­ses. The hard wick­ets Down Un­der will also as­sist the In­dian bats­men, who like their coun­ter­parts pre­fer bounce on the track but strug­gle against side­ways move­ment, in pro­vid­ing bet­ter sup­port to their well-con­di­tioned bowl­ing at­tack. In­dia’s bur­geon­ing pace bat­tery, which matched Eng­land’s vet­eran fast-bowl­ing at­tack and out­paced them con­sis­tently, has come of age be­yond imag­i­na­tion and will in­evitably test Aus­tralia’s de­vel­op­ing bat­ting line-up to the hilt.

In­dian broad­cast­ers have de­vel­oped a ten­dency of late to err on the side of hy­per­bole. And the pro­mos to the Aus­tralian tour have voiceovers claim­ing that “in Aus­tralia when one stump gets up­rooted, it feels like all three have been knocked out” and that “in Aus­tralia, the gen­tle­man’s game be­comes slightly un­gentle­manly”. At a time,

Aus­tralian cricket is try­ing hard to get rid of this very rep­u­ta­tion, it’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see whether Kohli & Co can fi­nally do the same with their own rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing “keen but un­suc­cess­ful trav­ellers”.

Vi­rat Kohli doesn’t hold back from show­ing how he feels on the field – and it’s flowed over to his In­dian team.

KL Rahul and the rest of In­dia’s bat­ting couldn’t match Kohli’s con­sis­tency in Eng­land (be­low). Will they im­prove down un­der?

Ishant Sharma will lead a deep pace at­tack ready to do the job in Aussie con­di­tions.

Ade­laide 2014: a run chase that ul­ti­mately fell short, but the In­di­ans stood up in a defin­ing mo­ment for the team.

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