Virat Kohli’s entrance to the mighty SCG arena was greeted with a chorus of boos today, which may or may not have been a good thing.
Perhaps, it was one of those peculiarly Australian back-handed compliments to a player whom everyone in this country knows is top class.
Perhaps it was a little classless, borne of the fact that an Indian captain is standing up to Australia’s players, who harbour plenty of the bully’s instinct.
Personally, I didn’t like it. Kohli is the type of man – supremely comfortable in his own skin, ambitious for his team, unwilling to take a backward step – that India needs, and cricket needs. He plays his cricket in a manner that Australians would admire in their own players. Now that MS Dhoni is retiring, he has already strode forward as the man to take his team forward, bearded chin sticking out, mouth running quickly.
Yes, he is annoying in the sense that he likes to chatter, likes to get under the skin of the Australians. He has surely succeeded in that. Yes, he carries a certain haughty presence on the field, constantly moving fieldsmen for no apparent reason. But at least he has backed up his words, time after time this summer.
By the end of day three of the fourth Test, it is Virat Kohli who stands between Australia and another victory. As it should be. Kohli ground out an unbeaten 140, and drew terrific support from KL Rahul, who made his maiden century in just his second Test match. A contest that looked decidedly one-sided on the first two days became a slow, attritional issue for the Australians, who found next-to-nothing from the pitch.
India had a fine day and suddenly the Test match is not necessarily the certain Australian victory that it seemed. India, 5/342 at stumps and still 230 in arrears of Australia, needs to bat well into tomorrow to be remotely safe. But it is not beyond Kohli to go much farther here.
Australia had a tough day, extracting just the single wicket in the stultifying morning session, the match in an apparent stalemate. The home team’s cause was personified by captain Stephen Smith, of all people, the golden child who had racked up his fourth century of the series on Wednesday. Smith missed a skied catch offered by Rahul when he was 45, claiming that the ball’s flight was altered by the wires holding the television network’s overhead cameras, and then spilled Kohli at second slip from Mitchell Starc’s bowling when the Indian skipper was 59.
Smith is one of the best fieldsmen in the world and would have expected to have taken both; how the game’s swings and roundabouts had moved against him in the space of a day. They were costly errors.
The Australians laboured throughout, epitomised by off-spinner Nathan Lyon, who wheeled down 32 overs for the solitary return of Rohit Sharma’s wicket, dragging the ball onto his stumps after attempting a sweep during the first session. Smith opened the off-side field for Lyon’s bowling and encouraged the Indians to drive and cut against the spin, but Lyon was disappointingly ineffectual despite the fact the wicket is baking and offering turn. Perhaps the second innings will be his time to shine.
In fact the most productive bowler was Shane Watson, who removed Ajinkya Rahane and Suresh Raina with consecutive balls, adding to the quandary that is Watto. He scored 81 and has two wickets already in this match, yet his position will remain the subject of debate.
Kohli was magnificent, his driving sublime and his patience exemplary. Much has been made of Smith’s amazing series for Australia, but in foreign climes, with conditions that are the polar opposite of what he has been brought up with on the subcontinent, India’s captain also has four centuries.
It is time that we all stood up and acknowledged him.