SYDNEY (AFP) – Virat Kohli’s pressing task as the new Test skipper is to arrest India’s woeful away record, starting with Tuesday’s final Test against Australia in Sydney.
Kohli assumed the mantle as India’s new captain following the sudden Test retirement of Mahendra Singh Dhoni after last week’s Melbourne Test, opening debate on whether his aggressive approach will energise the team.
India have already lost the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with Australia holding an unassailable 2-0 lead heading into the fourth Test, but there is much interest in how Kohli’s volatility will impact on the team’s fortunes.
India have won only one of their last 22 Tests overseas and have been successful in only one of their 10 Tests at the Sydney Cricket Ground, that sole victory coming 37 years ago.
Kohli has been tagged a firebrand, a “spoilt brat” but has been long viewed as the natural successor of Dhoni, who was the most successful Test match skipper in India’s history, winning 27 of the 60 Tests he led with 18 losses and 15 draws.
Now that Dhoni has moved on, India’s immediate Test future lies in Kohli’s hands and it will be a fascinating sub-plot to this week’s Sydney Test.
Australia will be weakened by the loss of ICC Cricketer of the Year and pace spearhead Mitchell Johnson with hamstring trouble, opening the way for Kohli and his other in-form team-mates Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane to get among the runs again.
All are averaging above 58 in this series, with Kohli matching his Australian counterpart Steve Smith with three centuries, and only brittle tail-end batting has been the key difference between the two sides.
“Captains have their own personalities and the best ones make players adapt to their thinking and methods,” India team director Ravi Shastri said.
“That’s his personality. He is aggressive, passionate and wears his heart on his sleeve. But he’s also prepared to walk the talk.
“Remember also, he’s only 26 and still getting used to captaincy. With a little luck, the (series) scoreline could well have been different. This is a young team that has acquitted itself very creditably.”
Johnson believes Kohli will bring a fresh, aggressive approach to the way India plays cricket.
“It could be quite interesting because they’re not known for that aggressive type of play,” Johnson said.
“He’ll definitely be an aggressive type of captain I think in the way he sets fields, and I think you’ll see a lot different to what MS (Dhoni) did.
“He’s an interesting character. He is a fierce competitor and he really does like to get involved in it all.”
Kohli skippered India for the first time in the first Test in Adelaide when Dhoni was recovering from a fractured thumb.
Australia’s vice-captain Brad Haddin said there might be some pointers from the Adelaide Test as to how Kohli will handle things at the SCG.
“I think what happened in Adelaide was we won the big moments,” Haddin said.
“It was a good game and there were some outstanding performances from Kohli and a few of the Indian batsmen.”
The Sydney Test will also be played against the poignant backdrop of the Phillip Hughes tragedy.
Test batsman Hughes was fatally struck by a short-pitched ball in a domestic game at the SCG in late November and several of his close cricketing friends on the field that fateful day will be returning to the scene during this week’s Test.