Virat Kohli is in the form of his life. After laying to rest doubts about whether he would be able to standup to the Aussie attack, his elevation to test captaincy is being heralded as the best thing to happen to Indian cricket. Perhaps rightfully so. He has played the series so far with a typical firebrand dash of aggression both on and off the field and he has every right to think that he has conquered the opposition.
Except that team is down 0-2 in the series. Except that this was the weakest Australian team to have faced India and yet we've surrendered the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with a test to go.
At this stage, Virat as the grand beacon of hope for Indian cricket can go into the Sydney test thinking he has done no wrong so far and go all out both on and off the field in sledging the Aussie team, targeting specific players and making them feel how he conquered the kangaroos in their own backyard.
Or he can reflect on what his real contribution to this series has been so far. On one side he will see the mountain of runs he has scored but if he cares for Indian cricket, he will also see a pull shot that he hit in the air in Adelaide with India 60 runs away from victory with only the tail in company. He would see himself chasing a delivery wide outside off-stump in the last over of the day in Melbourne.
From a position that could've put India in the lead, he should see that the team crumbled to hand the Aussies a reasonably significant lead. He should also see a very grumpy version of himself who came out to bat in place of Shikhar Dhawan in Brisbane and didn't quite look like he was in the mood to fight. There will be large quarters among fans who will see these instances as nitpicking but Test Cricket is harsh and a 40 minute passage of play can make the difference between surrendering a trophy and retaining one.
Ravi Shastri’s comments about not caring about scoreline was not right
Now, the Indian team with a new Team Director in Ravi Shastri look set to be in a mood to pay back Aussies in the same coin. Shastri on national television spoke about how he 'cares two hoots' about the scoreline. The team thought they've done a marvelous job in drawing at Melbourne. When Sanjay Manjrekar quizzed Shastri about the areas to improve, he belligerently evaded the specifics and mentioned in 12 months this team will be a "bullet team". The team missed an all-rounder he said. Everything else he was happy with.
The foundation of successful teams lies in a honest assessment of their current state of affairs. I doubt if John Buchanan were asked what the team needs to improve at the start of Australia's staggering run of 17 test wins, he would've responded with such perfect acceptance of how good the team already was. Closer home, we have never heard Gary Kirsten talk about not caring about score lines.
People like Steve Waugh and Brian Lara whether in moments of weakness or strength were always the first to point out what they could've done better. Like Sunil Gavaskar rightly pointed out in the post match analysis, "Test match is not a finishing school." and if Shastri is not the person to lead the team into thinking that they screwed up a golden chance in Australia, Virat has to be.
Virat Kohli can learn from past greats
And if Virat does go down that path of reflection, he will find numerous examples of people like Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman batting with utmost responsibility to see the team through. He will remember Laxman coming out to bat at #3, against his normal position of #6, on a follow-on in Kolkata and deliver a 281.
He will see Dravid opening in a test match in Perth against a much-touted Shaun Tait and laying a solid foundation for the team to eventually register a win in an ill-fated series. He will see VVS batting with the tail in Mohali, Durban, Colombo, in fact all over the world and seeing the team through to strong positions. In none of these situations, did these players consider battling with the opposition verbally as their prime objective.
One sees Virat Kohli now on-field and knows that there are two battles he is currently fighting, one is for the team and the other, much needless one against the likes of Brad Haddin, David Warner and Mitchell Johnson. He can very well do with just the former. Irrespective of the tough facade that he wants to portray, make no mistake, Kohli was indeed rattled and edged Johnson and then mistimed a pull that could've ended his innings, right after that little ball-hurling incident at Melbourne. Mitch apologized and Virat should've just let it be.
He was lucky he survived as did India. Let’s also not forget it wasn't the Aussies this time around that started the verbal duels. They were in a tough spot coming into the series after Phil Hughes and were surprisingly well behaved until our very own Rohit Sharma took that step when Mitch Johnson came out to bat in Brisbane.
If Kohli is the best captain for Indian test cricket now, he needs to take a leaf out of these great batsmen of the past and do some soul-searching about what he could've done better in the larger interest of the team. He needs to understand that a certain Sachin Tendulkar eschewed the cover drive completely over the course of two days in Sydney to guard his wicket coming in at 128-2 and compile a monumental (and unbeaten) 241.
If Virat speaks to the great man, Sachin will also perhaps tell him that the Chennai test was the most painful of this test career because in spite of his much vaunted hundred, the team didn't win. Whenever quizzed about the Chennai ton, Sachin downplays it because if the team doesn't win, there's no point in amassing those runs. And irrespective of whatever happened on the field, one never heard any of these great batsmen crib about what they were sledged about on-field in post match press conferences.
Captaincy brings an added responsibility
Before donning test captaincy, Kohli could've still walked that thin line but as an ambassador for Indian cricket, as an example to millions of young kids who want to emulate him, he needs to change his ways of dealing with the opposition. That's why we need our captain to go to a Rohit Sharma and ask him to get some runs on-field rather than get under someone's skin.
Because that's not the job description of a middle-order bat. Matthew Hayden commented during the series about the fact that its not all body language and swearing that conveys aggression. "If you want to see aggression, look at Dravid's eyes", he said. Virat needs to be the one to lead the Indian team into thinking on those lines.
Brian Lara went to Sri Lanka in 2001 – just at the time Muttiah Muralitharan was peaking and stamping his class across batsmen the world over. He scored 688 runs in that series. Yet amongst all of Lara's achievements, this number is a footnote. His 153 not out at Barbados counts for more. Much more.
For the sake of Indian cricket, let's hope Virat Kohli isn't trying to sell us a dummy story about how because the Aussies called him a 'spoilt brat' and because he could still score 500 runs against them, he really came out a winner. He would do well to remember that the larger battle at the end of the day is the scoreline at the end of the series. Nothing else really matters. Let's hope Virat is the man who isn't going to fool us into thinking, that it isn't.