In Kohli's absence, India needs a spirited show against Australia

Virat Kohli is not only a run machine, but also a motivator, especially when India plays abroad. He will be missed after the 36/9 horror of Adelaide.

The Kohli “how to play in Australia” manual is available on the Internet, and the Indian team’s youngsters should take a leaf out of that book.   -  AP

“I am pretty confident that the team is going to bounce back strongly in Melbourne. We will definitely learn from this. I don’t think we have ever had a worse batting performance. We can only go upwards from here... You will see guys stepping up, realising their true character and doing the job for the team.”

That was Virat Kohli at the post-match press conference after India’s 36/9 horror show in Adelaide. The reiteration that his side will bounce back highlights Kohli’s trust in the group. Kohli is a smart Test captain who understands the importance of a positive environment in the dressing room. He knows the challenges of handling pressure, which will be immense in the remaining three Tests of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

READ: Gavaskar: Different rules for Kohli, Natarajan

Kohli won’t be around to stage a rescue act this time around, but he remains the best man to have in spirit; his words can uplift morale.

The Kohli show in Australia

The Kohli “how to play in Australia” manual is available on the Internet, and the Indian team’s youngsters should take a leaf out of that book. With hundreds in all four SENA countries —– South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia — Kohli averages 44.23 in overseas Tests, excluding those played in the Indian subcontinent, making him a standout among his contemporaries.

 

Six hundreds in Australia

Kohli has been Australia’s nemesis — and a constant worry for coach Justin Langer. Most of the Australians’ fears centre around the India captain. A detailed account is available in the documentary The Test, which portrays the intense discussions at the time of the 2018-19 series on how to deal with Kohli. The Aussies understand the mindset Kohli brings to the table, which is very Australian: look eye to eye and fight till your last breath. They are scared that the other Indian players will end up imbibing his methods and start firing.

READ: Australia has a good chance of beating India 4-0 - Ponting

Out of Kohli’s 12 Test hundreds abroad, six have been in Australia against quality bowling — both seam and spin — on bouncy strips. On his maiden tour Down Under in 2011-12, when no other batsman survived in Adelaide, Kohli came in at No. 6 and scored 116 in the first innings.

On his maiden tour Down Under in 2011-12, when no other batsman survived in Adelaide, Virat Kohli came in at No. 6 and scored 116 in the first innings.   -  Reuters

 

On the next tour in 2014-15, Kohli made scoring hundreds a habit. He hammered two in Adelaide and nearly chased down a fourth-innings target of 364. He added two more in Melbourne and Sydney, where both Tests ended in draws and Kohli salvaged some pride for India after it lost the first two matches.

LISTEN: The horror show in Adelaide will force the Indian management to make some tough decisions. Can India bounce back in Melbourne? We discuss on Matchpoint Paradox

 

 

And while the most recent tour of Australia belonged to Cheteshwar Pujara, who scored 521 runs, Kohli did not miss out on his staple hundred: he scored 123 in Perth, though India lost the Test.

Who will fill the void?

Since his debut, India has won 44 out of the 87 Tests Kohli has played. In that time, only England’s Joe Root has scored more runs – 7,823 in 97 Tests, compared to Kohli’s 7,318 runs.

 

With Kohli returning home after the Adelaide Test for the birth of his first child, India will need its openers to provide a solid cushion to the middle order and a strong No. 4 — a spot that perhaps cost the side during the 2019 One-Day International World Cup. A lot of thought needs to go into the permutations and combinations around India’s batting order. Considering his experience, K. L. Rahul could bat at No. 4. Hanuma Vihari, too, is capable of being the anchor, but the story can be a lot better if stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane promotes himself up the order.

READ: Gill, Siraj handed debuts as India looks to bounce back in Melbourne

As for the openers, Shubman Gill is likely to partner Mayank Agarwal as it will be difficult for Prithvi Shaw to make a comeback after his failure in both innings in Adelaide.

India has not recorded a 100-run opening partnership in Australia since 2003-04, and the pairing of Aakash Chopra and Virender Sehwag still remains the country’s best of the past two decades, a period that included six tours Down Under.

 

India won the Test series during the 2018-19 tour despite not having a single three-figure opening partnership. With no Kohli for the remaining three matches on the current tour, India’s openers will need to up the ante to make life easy for the middle order.

The law of averages

Kohli’s average of 54.08 in 25 innings Down Under is higher than that of both V. V. S. Laxman, who was Australia’s the tormentor-in-chief through the 2000s, and Sachin Tendulkar, the only batsman to score more runs in Australia than the current India captain.

Kohli’s average of 54.08 in 25 innings in Australia is higher than that of both V. V. S. Laxman (right), who was Australia’s tormentor-in-chief through the 2000s, and Sachin Tendulkar, the only batsman to score more runs in Australia than the current India captain.   -  K. R. Deepak

 

No other batsman from India’s current squad features among the country’s top five performers in Australia. Pujara is in seventh spot with 765 runs — most of which were scored during the 2018-19 tour — while Rahane is 12th with 658.

 

Kohli has been the rock star on the road, always strumming the right chords in overseas fixtures. It remains to be seen how the existing members of the touring party tune up for the bigger concerts ahead — the much-awaited Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, followed by games in Sydney and Brisbane. They need to sing in chorus to lift the spirits.