December 5, 2018
In 2018, Australian cricket was all about the image. The incriminating close-up of Cameron Bancroft’s sandpaper fingers at Newlands was a defining one. The opener’s ashen face in his press conference later that day became another, as did his captain Steve Smith’s anguished and tear-streaked expression on arriving home. All the turmoil since was based around those images, and their effect on the public image of the national men’s team.
But ahead of this new Test summer, the sound of the sport has taken over. Replacing the countless words that have filled so much space since March, Virat Kohli’s bat produced the noise of the game at its most evocative. A video of the Indian skipper dominating a training session in a manner that can only be described as sensual has been watched three million times on the Cricket Australia platforms. With the sound up, it was aural batting perfection.
The cricket-writing giant Mike Coward observed Australia’s enduring love of Sachin Tendulkar by saying it was natural to be drawn to “young, modest, ambitious, and seemingly innocent” players who play in the right spirit. You can scratch “modest” and “innocent” when describing Kohli, but the adoration is no different. The shrieks when he appears are closer to when The Beatles were in town. When Kohli walked around Adelaide Oval for a photo call with Tim Paine, the local skipper wasn’t the one mobbed.
The fascination extends to the Australian dressing room. When CricViz whizkid Ben Jones crunched the numbers on how Kohli has been dismissed this year, Justin Langer had the article printed and circulated to the team. That analysis also wound up on the back page of Daily Telegraph as a national obsession mounted.
That Australia are planning on putting away the crudest elements of their verbal repertoire will likely disappoint Kohli, who lives for hostility. Asked about the likely tone of the series ahead, he all but invited them to disregard the year that was and come at him anyway. “At times when situations are difficult,” he said, “you do find ways to upset the batsman’s rhythm and I feel a bit of banter there is not harmful at all.” Watch this space.
That the first stop is Adelaide puts Kohli at maximum ease. This the city where he made his maiden Test century in 2012 and added twin tons in 2014 in his first as captain. “I love coming to this ground,” he said. “I don’t know what the connection is but I just feel really good here. Not to say that performances are always guaranteed in a certain place but coming to Adelaide I feel different to any other place that I’ve gone in the world. It happens to every cricketer, they do have a favourite ground away from home.”
At almost any other time, the fact that Paine is overseeing his first Test on home soil would be today’s primary talking point. Or that vice-captain Mitch Marsh has been dropped at the same ground where his father lost his own Test spot as deputy to Allan Border in 1992. Citing the all-rounder’s lack of consistency, the younger Marsh returns to Sheffield Shield cricket, but has been told he will likely be required at some stage during the series.
Part of the logic of leaving him out is that Australia believe the three fast bowlers will be able to shoulder the load at the start of a new campaign on a grassy pitch – even if the forecast temperature for the opening day is 39 degrees. “All of our quicks go in really fresh so we’ve got confidence in them at the start of the series,” Paine said. “Going forward we’ve got full faith in [Marsh] being a Test all-rounder and as this series wears on and we get to places where the wicket might be a bit flatter and conditions might be a little warmer and our bowlers a bit tired then the all rounder position becomes important.”
Kohli has set the sound of the summer for now. The story, though, remains Australia’s to set.