Virat Kohli has been copping a lot of criticism in recent weeks for various reasons. Stormy press conferences and selection decisions aside, it is his lack of consistency with the bat in the ongoing tour of South Africa, particularly at crucial moments in the two Tests that have taken place so far, that seem to have added fuel to the fire that is raging against him.
Yet, there is little to deny the fact that the Indian captain ranks among the greatest batsmen across formats in the modern-era, thanks mainly to his vast body of work in the last couple of years that have seen him accomplish one milestone after another.
He still would retain many a fan despite his recent criticism, and former Australia cricketer Dean Jones is certainly among them.
"He’s my favourite player in the world, and he’s just a great player. The kids want to see him play. Australian kids want to see him play.
"It’s not just ‘I want to watch Steve Smith bat’... We also want to see the best bowlers and best batsmen in the world come and play. We have a voracious appetite for great sport," Jones said in an exclusive chat with Firstpost, describing Kohli's exploits at Adelaide in the 2014-15 edition of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy as "the best knock of the summer".
Kohli is part of a generation of leading batsmen who also happen to be captains of their respective teams, as a result of which he is often compared to the likes of Steve Smith, Joe Root and Kane Williamson — with the names mentioned comprising the 'Fab Four' of the modern era.
However, Jones chose to focus on the aspect that might have helped the aforementioned batsmen flourish in the current generation — lack of sting among the modern-day bowlers, especially the quicks.
"The ‘Fab Four’ they are at the moment. But at the same time, I just think that bowling standards are down a little bit. The pitches aren’t great for fast bowlers…
"There’s no Steyn, Malcolm Marshall, Holding, Garner, Roberts, Ambrose, Walsh, Kapil Dev, Imran, Waqar, Wasim. There’s none of that coming around. Unfortunately, not many guys are touching 150 in the world as they used to. That’s a fact. Because we’re all playing on different pitches now as well," said Jones, a veteran of 52 Tests and 164 ODIs in a career spanning 10 years.
India's struggles in South Africa — which comes after a long, successful home season that got them to the top of the Test rankings — as well as England's surrender in the recent after a dominant home summer reinforce the belief that teams are increasingly becoming home-track bullies and poor visitors. Add to it the fact that Australia too have failed in subcontinental conditions in recent times.
However, as far as the Victorian is concerned, the trend isn't anything new; rather, the ability to win on foreign soil on a consistent basis is a trait that has been seen in very few teams till date, with Ricky Ponting-led Australia and Graeme Smith-led South Africa being a couple of examples in this regard.
"I’ll go against that (trend) a little bit, because the stats say that teams lost in the 20s, 30s and 40s; there’s not much difference in trend believe it or not. Stats prove it."
Jones applied the same principle to Australian leader Smith, adding that even though the the 28-year-old had achieved a plenty of success in recent times, the latest of which is guiding Australia to a 4-0 triumph in the recently-concluded Ashes, he was not worthy of being called a 'great captain' yet.
"He’s not yet a great captain. You’re not a great captain till you win away from home," added the man who is affectionately referred to by some as 'Professor Deano'.
Jones was in New Delhi recently to promote an event hosted by the government of the Australian state of Victoria, in which he went on to describe Melbourne as "the best sporting city in the world without a doubt."
The mention of both 'Jones' and 'India' in the same sentence often leads to a discussion on one of the most memorable matches every played on Indian soil. The first of the three-Test series between India and Australia that took place in Chennai (then Madras) in September, 1986 happens to be one of the two matches in the history of Test cricket that ended in a tie.
What stood out in that game was Jones' brave innings of 210, in which he battled both the Kapil Dev-led Indian attack as well as the energy-sapping Madras heat, batting on at the insistence of captain Allan Border despite vomiting on the pitch. At the end of the innings, he had to be adminstered saline drips in a hospital in the southern Indian city.
For the Victorian however, the match isn't just a hallmark moment in his own career; rather, he describes it as a vital point in Indo-Australian cricketing relations. According to him, it was the match that helped play the role of a catalyst in bringing the two teams closer.
"It’s much more than that. It’s about the relationships being made from that. Now it’s the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Kapil Dev is a dear friend of mine, as is Sunny Gavaskar, as is Ravi Shastri. They’re all big power people within the cricket circles now, as is Allan Border of course.
"There have been some wonderful Test matches played before that, but that was the thing that got our relationship started to. And as teams, we got on famously well; we were good mates. And then the following year, we won the World Cup. And then when we went back to Madras the following 12 months after the tied Test match, we beat India by just one run. It literally moulded many of our careers," said Jones.
When quizzed on his perception of the cricketing culture in India, he said that the Indians were ahead of the Aussies as far as fan following is concerned.
"India are way in front of us in love and adoration for the game. But we don’t like losing either. It’s not the biggest sport in Australia. (But) when we commit, we commit, and when we put the Australian team on ground against India, you got to fight. It’s in our culture. Sport is our culture; it’s part of our DNA.
"Pakistan won that amazing game in Chennai (in 1999), and they did that lap of honour. And there were Indians giving a standing ovation for the greatest games of all time. Where do you see that happening? That’s why I’ve always loved Indian people for their knowledge of the game, the respect that they’ve got for their opposition as well. They want to win — I’ve no problem with that — but there is a huge respect for the Australians, and I love that," concluded Jones.
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