If anecdotal expressions of dislike towards Virat Kohli are an accurate reflection of broader Australia’s attitude towards him, the Indian captain is potentially the most hated person in the country right now.
Perhaps even more so after his team completed a resilient and resolute victory at Adelaide Oval on Monday. For many, it was another reason to dislike the 30-year-old skipper; a man who gets under the skin of so many Australian cricket fans.
Ironically, further dislike of the modern prince of batsman-ship was enhanced in no way by Kohli’s performance with the bat, as he scrapped his way to a measly 37 runs across two innings’.
However, the sight of Kohli celebrating at the end of the Test; pleased, passionate and powerful, would no doubt have wound up many.
It is a dislike born of competition, intensity, talent and one that extends well beyond the individual.
It also stems from both the subcontinent and Australia.
Recent history has seen Border-Gavaskar series simmer to boiling point and the most recent version in 2016-17 became flat out distasteful at times.
The modern angst between the two sides was in fact born years earlier. Harbhajan Singh’s allegedly racially motivated comment towards Andrew Symonds at the SCG in January 2008 was the flashpoint; blending building hostility and entrenching a chasm between the two sides.
Despite rumblings in series prior to that time, rumblings I outlined in March 2017, Singh’s actions firmly ingrained a genuine dislike between the two sides.
Despite the eventual downgrading of the charge to abusive language and the Indian team’s threat to boycott the remainder of the tour, the cricket somehow continued.
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Seven months in, what’s the verdict on Justin Langer?
Do Australian cricket fans really understand Virat Kohli?
As it would over the next six series, in which the home side has triumphed on each occasion. In the second of those six, a young man from Delhi would make his Test debut.
Previously seen as something of a limited over specialist, Virat Kohli set about rewriting the Test match record books.
The brash and confident batsman made his first tour to Australia in 2011-12, a tour he recently described his own behaviour and competitiveness as being, ‘so bad’.
The young Kohli was no doubt being moulded by the experienced members of the squad in order to combat the aggressive nature of the Australians and the ruthlessness manner in which they played the game.
Captain MS Dhoni, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and co. had lived it for years; that Australian tendency to push to the brink of sportsmanship.
So much so, that the Indians appeared to begin using the approach as a template – something to which the Australians, self-centredly, struggled to accept and respond.
In his first series against Australia, the 5-foot-9-inch batsman fared well, with 300 runs at an average of 37.50.
The following series on the subcontinent in 2012-13 saw India execute a 4-0 drubbing of the Australians, with Kohli’s 56.80 average further stamping him as a world class batsman.
When India returned to Australia two years later, Kohli was to inherit the Indian captaincy for good mid-series when MS Dhoni realised his Test career had finally drawn to a close.
Amidst the changeover, Kohli compiled 692 runs at an average of 86.5 and, if many in the Australian cricket public hadn’t taken a clear dislike to the future number one batsman in the world by that stage, they soon would.
Not that Australian fans dislike a player based purely on his effectiveness in the contest (although it helps), but Kohli gave them something more.
He was confident, brash and possessed a Sourav Ganguly-like arrogance that ruffles Australian sensibilities.
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
More telling was his ability to back up the attitude via sheer artistry with the blade.
It set up a compelling and potentially volatile 2016-17 series in India that subsequently saw tensions escalate. Kohli had hardened his team, tangibly so.
He is a man determined to be on the front foot, often while batting and permanently in life.
Calling out Australian captain Steve Smith for supposed breaches of the DRS system during the second Test in Bangalore was a brave and bold decision.
Kohli accused the Australians of attempting to circumnavigate the regulations requiring a brisk referral from the on-field participants by using third-party advice from the dressing room.
Smith admitted to a momentary ‘brain fade’. Coach Darren Lehman denied the allegation vehemently, yet Kohli maintained the rage; adamant that the Australians had been illegally referring to the dressing room for advice for ‘three days’.
Wearing a Kohli emblazoned Indian team shirt down a Sydney or Melbourne Street might well have set off a melee, such was the fury towards him in Australia.
Peter Handscomb and Smith were the players named in the official BCCI report to the ICC.
Long seen as ‘bully boys’, the ugly Australian tag has lingered over the Australian men’s Test cricket team for over a generation. Much of the time it is well deserved.
From the coining of the phrase ‘mental disintegration’ all the way through to David Warner, Cameron Bancroft and Steve Smith’s blatant cheating and subterfuge in South Africa, Indian cricketers have many reasons to dislike the Australian’s style.
Now they have a man at the helm; smelling blood around a weakened Australian team, hell-bent on dishing it up as humiliatingly and aggressively as he can.
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Hearing the Indian slip cordon in Adelaide scream like banshees each and every time a wicket fell annoyed many with whom I have discussed the match.
Seeing Kohli himself spitting, swearing and seething as he bounded towards his successful bowler was more than passion.
It reeked of a man sick to death of losing in Australia. A man who has well and truly drawn a line in the sand.
A man tired of hearing that series victories in the subcontinent count for less than those won in England, Australia or South Africa.
I love seeing someone stand up to a bully and for so long, Australia’s talent and presence has been exactly that for many cricketing nations.
India now have a captain prepared to do whatever it might take to punch the bully square in the nose.
He may have mellowed, matured and gained a more measured sense of perspective since marriage and experience have been added to his psychological armoury.
However, when Virat Kohli takes to the field these days, it is hard to compare his desire, talent and desperation to any other cricketer.
It is just a shame that many Australians see it as something else.