◄ DHARAMSHALA: He won’t particularly like the analogy, but Indian captain Virat Kohli does have one thing in common with Donald Trump heading into the deciding Test against the Aussies – a fierce will to hang on in trying circumstances. His right shoulder injured, his batting form having fallen apart in the space of three Tests and a section of the Australian media and cricketing fraternity baying for his blood, Kohli will be hoping to deliver a statement with his mere presence in the decider starting Saturday.
◄ The likes of Sunil Gavaskar have been suggesting since Ranchi that Kohli shouldn’t force the shoulder. It’s unlikely though, that the feisty skipper, at the centre of a bitter build-up to the fourth Test, will want to listen to reason and sit this one out.
◄ He does seem to be managing the injury well. Kohli, who hasn’t missed any games for India in any format since Sept 22, 2016 – that includes 54 days of Test cricket alone -chose to skip the customary knock at nets on Thursday. He restricted himself to under-arm throws, instead cutting a sprightly figure at the customary pitch meeting with curators.
◄ Kohli will be aware that this upcoming contest could be the defining moment of his short captaincy career. Under him, India have been combative, provocative and often scintillating. A backward step now will send confused signals. To enforce his captaincy paradigm, it is imperative that Kohli is around to man the troops in this most bitter of sporting contests.
◄ In his 26-Test captaincy stint, Kohli’s success percentage of 61.53 makes him third in the all-time list, just behind Steve Waugh (71.92 percent) and Ricky Ponting (62.33). A 2-0 win in the Caribbean has been followed by a 3-0 whitewash of New Zealand, a 4-0 defeat of England and one-off win over Bangladesh. The Australians, though, haven’t been as easy to push over, and Kohli’s batting form has taken a simultaneous dip.
◄ For someone who averaged 109.16 against England and scored double centuries against England, New Zealand and Bangladesh, this series has been a nightmare: a total of 46 runs from three Tests so far and a highest score of 15, making it the second-worst performance ever by an Indian captain (batting positions No.1 to No. 7 only), behind only Mohammad Azharuddin’s 42-run tally against England in three Tests in 1996.
◄ Clearly, if India don’t pull it off in Dharamshala, this will be a series to forget for Kohli. The endless needling by players of both teams has stirred the pot further. In particular, Kohli being referred to in Australia’s Daily Telegraph newspaper as “a batwielding Trump” who is “a law unto himself” hasn’t gone down well in the team.
◄ “I think it’s really sad to hear such comments,” Cheteshwar Pujara said on Thursday. “We fully support Virat. He is one of the great ambassadors of the game. I think the focus has shifted somewhere else, which shouldn’t have happened. He is a great leader.”
◄ Meanwhile, Josh Hazlewood upped the ante, saying the pressure was on Kohli to deliver. “The pressure is firmly on them,” he said, “We can draw it but we obviously want to win it. Every time he (Kohli) doesn’t get runs he’s closer to that big knock. Hopefully, it’s not this next game.”
◄ Kohli will be hoping it is. But will the shoulder hang tough for one more week?