Another edition of India-Australia rivalry will unfold this month when Virat Kohli and his men travel Down Under for six limited-overs matches and four Tests. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the teams will fight it out, and, we are sure, the quality of cricket will the same, top-class. And, expect Australian sledging too, but they are unlikely to have stadiums with home fans, who are known to be nasty to the visiting sides.
In 2018-19, India created history in Australia, by winning their first-ever Test series, ending a wait of 72 years. The Kohli-led side triumphed 2-1 in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Apart from high-quality cricket, there were on-field spats as well.
Australia’s stand-in captain Tim Paine had clashed with Kohli during the Perth Test in 2018. “I know he’s (Kohli) your captain but you can’t seriously like him as a bloke?” Paine’s words were caught on the stump microphone.
In the same game, Kohli, when Paine was batting, said, “If he messes it up, it’s 2-0.” The wicketkeeper-batsman replied, “You’ve got to bat first, big head.”
— Majoka (@idreesMajoka) December 17, 2018
Then there was the famous “Can you babysit?” comment from Paine, aimed at young Indian wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant. The Indian too returned the favour by calling him “temporary captain”.
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) December 29, 2018
The last tour of India Down Under had its share of verbal duels. But in the end all that happened was left on the field.
But in comparison to previous Australian sides, in recent times, the amount of sledging has come down. The Aussies have “gone soft” against the Indian players, feel the experts.
Former captain Michael Clarke had slammed his countrymen for not being aggressive against Kohli during the 2018-19 series. He had accused the Australian cricketers to have “sucked up” to the Indian skipper due to million-dollar Indian Premier League (IPL) deals. Later, several players had hit back at Clarke’s comments.
Tim Paine to @RishabPant777 at Boxing Day Test: “You babysit? I’ll take the wife to the movies one night, you’ll look after the kids?”
*Challenge accepted!* 👶
(📸 Mrs Bonnie Paine) pic.twitter.com/QkMg4DCyDT
— ICC (@ICC) January 1, 2019
The Aussies are known to target the visiting side’s best batsman or the captain. This time too, Kohli will be under the radar. Though the amount of sledging could come down from the Australians, we can’t see them completely banning that.
However, former captain and legend Steve Waugh has already sent a warning to the home team, that is, not to sledge Kohli in the Test series.
“Sledging is not going to worry Virat Kohli, it doesn’t work against the great players and you’re better off leaving those guys alone,” Waugh said in a video posted by ESPNcricinfo. “I think any extra motivation will make them dig in more and get more runs. So you’re better off not saying much to him.”
Earlier this year, David Warner too had a similar view. The left-handed opener felt it would backfire on them, if they “poke the bear”.
“I thrive on the crowd, I thrive on people sort of going at me in the field, and getting into that battle,” Warner told India Today. “I think Virat is quite similar, if you go a little bit at Virat he comes out harder with the bat and he plays amazing. We have seen that time and time again. There is no point in actually trying to poke the bear, because at the end of the day if you do that it just fires up the person a bit more.”
Kohli has always been aggressive on the field, just like the Australians. He doesn’t back away if the opposition targets him. Arguably, the best batsman across formats, Kohli will be keen to repeat last time’s success Down Under. Sledge or no sledge, Kohli is at his best when he has a bat in his hand.
It is up to the Australians to heed to Waugh’s advice or not. Given their way of approach, sledging is most likely to stay in 2020-21 too. But, it will be good for them if they don’t “poke the bear”.