“We are focusing on being aggressive and having that mindset throughout as a habit rather than fading out in six months’ time.”
Virat Kohli is on his way to become India’s most successful Test captain of all time. As a 26-year-old who had an eye on firmly establishing himself as an all-formats modern-day great, and as a skipper, he made his intentions clear before India’s 2014-’15 tour of Australia began. MS Dhoni suffered a rare injury and was scheduled to join the squad at a later stage during the tour.
During the first phase of his career, the Australia tour in many ways was Kohli’s coming full-circle. The venue was Adelaide, the cauldron that witnessed a volatile, eager-to-please, podgy youngster score his first Test century in 2011-’12. Despite being a gutsy effort in a losing cause, that knock would become a springboard for greater success in the years to come. In January 2012, Kohli had arrived as a Test batsman.
Four years later, he had a point to prove. That too, on his captaincy debut in white flannels. It was less than six months since James Anderson and Co had humbled India’s captain-in-waiting to his weakest return from a Test series (134 runs in five Tests at 13.40).
Exorcising those ghosts from England was not the only task Kohli had at hand. He had to do that against a bowling attack which, only a year earlier, had made mincemeat out of England in the Ashes on their way to a 5-0 whitewash. A layman could have predicted during the buildup to the series that rib-cage deliveries and chin music were going to be served up in ample measure.
There was a slight twist in the tale. Barely a couple of weeks before the Test series began, the cricketing world was sent into mourning following the tragic death of upcoming Australia batsman Phillip Hughes during a Sheffield Shield game. There were question marks of the mental state of many of the Australian players, many of whom had close ties with Hughes.
It was a vicious bouncer that took the life of Hughes. Now, on the eve of the Test, there were murmurs that the desolate Aussies would do away with short-pitched stuff altogether.
Australia vs Kohli
The tributes for Hughes poured in through centuries from David Warner and skipper Michael Clarke. The Indian pace trio of Mohammed Shami, Varun Aaron and Ishant Sharma failed to get any purchase from the flat Adelaide Oval pitch, and the runs flowed thick and fast.
Warner and Clarke both may have made many a fan’s eyes moist with their touching ode to their deceased teammate. Steve Smith, meanwhile, piled on the misery for India with a century of his own (162*) and the hosts declared at an imposing 517/7. Smith would go on an imperious run during the series, putting his name alongside Kohli with some authority in the battle for supremacy with a willow in hand.
Kohli responded with the same grit and chutzpah that was on display four summers earlier. One of the defining moments of his 115-run knock was getting hit on the temple by a nasty Mitchell Johnson bouncer. In another time, that would have elicited an evil grin, a stare-down or a few expletives just to put the batsman in his place.
But there was gamesmanship on display here. Johnson and the concerned Australian players immediately converged around Kohli to check if he was alright. The recent events continued to hover over the Adelaide sky.
Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane rallied around their skipper and scored creditable half-centuries and India were bowled out for 444, trailing Australia by 73 at that stage. Indian bowlers’ toil continued and Warner and Smith, who will not be a part of the upcoming tour, were at the thick of it all. The southpaw scored his second century of the match and Clarke, true to his philosophy, made a bold decision to declare with India needing 364 from 98 overs to win.
The sun was shining brightly and with the two teams had accounted for nearly a 1,000 runs in the first innings.
Lyon upstages the Kohli-Vijay show
The anguish-to-ecstasy drama (depending on who you support) ebbed and flowed in a pattern that even the most discerning viewer would have struggled to keep up with. There were umpiring howlers from Marais Erasmus and Ian Gould. Top-class spin bowling and ultra-attacking batting, an approach seldom adopted by India on overseas tours, were some of the key plot points.
Vijay and Kohli, however, served up a treat. Piercing the gaps through cover and behind square like veteran surgeons, the third-wicket partnership motored along at a rapid pace. Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle looked toothless, and in the second session in particular, helpless too.
Luck, too, was on the batting team’s side. As many as three clear-cut leg-before decisions didn’t go the Australians’ way. The pressure was on them as they had 158 to defend in the final session of the day’s play. India had eight wickets in hand, and two set batsmen at the crease.
Nathan Lyon’s rotten luck was compounded by Vijay and Kohli using the long handle against him. Kohli soon became only the second player to score twin hundreds on captaincy debut. There was no angry posturing or brouhaha this time; there was a task at hand.
Lyon, though, was made of sterner stuff. And, this was a wicket he knew all too well thanks to his stint as a groundsman. A nervy Vijay would miss his century by a run as the off-spinner got one to turn back in sharply from the rough. Australia got the opening they needed, and the Indians were unable to stem the rot. Rahane, Rohit Sharma, and Wriddhiman Saha fell in quick succession to Lyon.
With India six-down, the onus was on the captain to steer his team to a famous win. Alas, the Kohli show came to an end after miscuing a poor short delivery from Lyon straight to Mitchell Marsh at deep mid-wicket. India’s hopes now lay in the dust. For a man who so rarely misses out on a bad ball, Kohli could scarcely believe the manner in which he missed out.
The bowlers wasted little time in mopping up the Indian tail. While the batsmen ruled the roost for all but one session, it was the bowling that was the difference between the two teams. The Indian bowlers could pick up just 12 wickets, which was Lyon’s match tally and his career-best at the time. Fittingly, the unflappable ‘Garry’ would take the final wicket as well.