In the aftermath of the heated second Test between India and Australia in Bangalore one thing has become clear – Australians do not like Virat Kohli. The Indian captain’s fire and brimstone approach has caught the ire of not just the opposition players, but particularly the Australian fans and media.
In the days after the Test, particularly after Kohli’s explosive press conference, Australian sports pages and their comments sections were filled with anger and vitriol directed towards the Indian star. Kohli even drew criticism from former players Ian Healy and Steve Waugh with Healy claiming he was ‘losing respect for Kohli’ while Waugh, the creator of so-called ‘mental disintegration’ was unhappy with Kohli revving up the crowd to make some noise and put pressure on the tourists.
So what is it about Kohli that aggravates Australians so much? Surely the country known for the macho, aggressive sledging tactics haven’t developed a thinner skin than Donald Trump? It seems that what Kohli has managed to do is get under the skin and irritate the Australian team, media and fans by giving them a taste of their own medicine.
For many years Australia dominated Test cricket with ease and an air of arrogance. Fans got accustomed to winning all the time, and being able to laugh as inept opposition teams were consistently bullied aside by the all-conquering teams of Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh, and Ricky Ponting. Australian sports pages were filled with tributes to their great teams and dismissive analysis of all the vanquished opponents.
Times have changed. Australia, while still a very good side, are no longer the dominant force in Test cricket. They can no longer walk over teams with their superior cricket and ‘mental disintegration’ tactics without copping plenty of stubborn resistance and verbals in return. They now have to fight hard against strong opposition led by men like Kohli who won’t back down against the big bad Australians. And they don’t like that.
Over the years, Australian cricket media and fans have made villains out of those who have dared stand up to their team, whether it was Sourav Ganguly going out of his way to annoy Steve Waugh, or Michael Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher using every tactic in the book to try and reclaim the Ashes, or the likes of Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Graeme Smith and Dale Steyn willing to unsettle the Australian players through sledging and verbals both on and off the field. Now Kohli is the new super-villain, taking the mantle from the likes of Harbhajan Singh and Ganguly in India.
Kohli has managed to follow on from Ganguly in antagonising the Australians with his aggressive attitude and fiery approach. It was under the leadership of Ganguly that India began to shed the reputation of being talented players who were meek and ‘timid’ as Healy put it. Ganguly started generations of Indian players on the path to a stronger self-belief, and to an aggression, passion, pride and level of confidence that was required to succeed at the top level. Kohli is continuing that on, and raising the bar to another level, to show this modern Indian side isn’t as timid as the likes of Healy believe.
What Australia may not see in Kohli is the strong similarity to the way they play the game – hard, aggressive, and sometimes a little brash. So far in Kohli’s career he has been compared a lot to Sachin Tendulkar for his batting feats, and in terms of attitude the comparison to Ganguly is not a new one, but it is a former Australian captain whom Kohli most resembles – Ricky Ponting.
The Tasmanian started off as a brash youngster who occasionally let himself down in his younger days on the international scene, not too dissimilar to Kohli, but he matured into a strong leader and great batsman who led his side with distinction, again something Kohli seems to be emulating. In his growth as a cricketer and leader Ponting never lost his aggression, passion and fire, nor did he relinquish his antagonistic attitude that used to infuriate opposition teams and fans. Ring a bell? Sounds a lot like Kohli. There are even similarities between the former Australian captain and the current Indian captain in terms of batsmanship – both are naturally aggressive stroke players who look to stamp their authority on the game and dominate from ball one. Both men have a lot of pride and confidence in their own ability and through their leadership and aggressive styles seek to lift their teams with them and drag them over the line. Neither is willing to take a backwards step or accept mediocrity.
So maybe in Kohli the Australians have seen themselves. Maybe they’ve looked in the mirror and they don’t like what they see. One thing is for certain: Kohli’s attitude is not going to change any time soon, he will continue to fight fire with fire against an Australian side who won’t back down in what is one of the toughest tours for an Australian side.
Clearly Kohli’s antics have got under the skin of the Australian fans and media, and even some of the players, which means he is doing something right if not scoring a mountain of runs just yet. If his methods stay within the rules of the game and manage to focus Australian minds elsewhere it might just play a big part in India reclaiming the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
What we do know is that Kohli has managed to aggravate and annoy the Australians in much the same manner that Ponting used to irk and be loathed by opposition teams and fans. If this means he’ll be as successful as Ponting as a batsman and captain, then more power to him.