If Virat Kohli thought he had got inside the mind of Steve Smith and his Australians after India snatched the second Test and the high moral ground, then he had many good reasons to think again while his opposite number rode into Ranchi and stole the land beneath his injured shoulder. This was just not meant to be. Australia do not bully India. In India. Period.
The Indians probably thought that repeating the trick against a team who had been whitewashed 4-0 on their last trip in 2013 was achievable. After all, England, a bigger threat on paper, were dispatched relatively easily and the Aussies had not won a Test in the subcontinent for six years . But the Baggy Greens have prepared for this trip like no other. And it shows. Their pre tour stopover in Dubai to simulate the specifics of the pitches from sharp spinners to flatter dust bowls has worked. It has even turned Nathan Lyon into an innings wrecker. We have a contest. Smith’s troops are not about to roll over and have their tummies tickled.
There’s some real aggro too which makes it all the more interesting.
After the battle of Bangalore, which India won after being on the back foot for the first three days, Smith, who now averages over 60, was accused by his opposite number of somethig sinister. When adjudged leg before wicket to a Umesh Yadav delivery, Smith admitted to a “brain fade” when he looked up to the Australian balcony for DRS advice on the nod of his batting partner Peter Handscomb. Virat Kohli was suitably unimpressed and decided to widen his reservations.
“Because there is a line you don’t cross on the cricket field. Sledging and playing against the opponents is different but I don’t want to mention that word but it falls into that bracket. I would never do something like that on the field.” Cheating was not mentioned by the Indian skipper but the intonation was clear. The Indians were insisting this was not the only time the Aussies had looked for heavenly advice from the balcony on the review system.
After the first day’s play in Ranchi, Smith had a century to his name. After the second day’s play, Australia were bowled out but their skipper remained defiantly unbroken, unbeaten and unbowed. No mental scarring there then. He had shown a bloody-mindedess on the level of Mike Atherton in 1994 when the Lancastrian scored 99 against the South Africans at Headingley just days after the “dirt in the pocket” ball-tampering scandal at Lord’s when Wisden declared “If Atherton was a cheat, he was not a very successful one.”
The New South Wales man merely cantered through the sessions without a care in the world and said: “You cannot control the past. I came out and said I had made a mistake and moved on from there.” Some people can make it that simple and act on it and believe it. While Kohli grinds his teeth and his shoulder, he knows that the Australians have come out with the bit between their teeth and not the tail between their legs. Even Glenn Maxwell looks like a proper Test batsman.
When England came and went recently with a definite fragility in their batting quarter and a lack of first-class spinners to dent the dancing Indians, Kohli was confident that he had seen off the bigger fish. But both Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar had warned the team not to fall into that trap with Dev saying: “I personally think Australia will be a bigger challenge, but I don’t think Virat feels that way.”
He must do now. Perhaps it has something to do with his own personal form, having scored just 40 runs in four completed innings. The 28-year-old has twice been out not playing a shot and used a review that was an even worse judgement of the system than your standard Stuart Broad DRS. Ultimately, the Delhi-born man is a street fighter at heart, a fanatic who puts every ounce into winning. He needs to be the heavyweight leader and in your face rather than hobbling off the field like a stricken David Haye.
Smith has burst into the ranch as a gunslinger with no worries about shooting from the hip The only way that Kohli can answer that is to step up as the sheriff and get some payback in the runs column. It should be an interesting few days in town.