“I’m waiting on clearance from bcci to play in the 4th test against Australia! Fingers cross, I will get a crack at swing swung 4 prank! LOL.” Chris Gayle’s sense of humour may have been too hot to handle for the Indian dressing room.
It was the third Test at Perth on the 2011-12 tour of Australia, and India had just surrendered inside three days. The visitors were down 3-0 in the series with Australia in sight of a clean sweep. The epitaph of a once formidable batting line-up consisting VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag was already being written. None barring Tendulkar averaged 25 in that series.
Gayle’s Twitter poke seemed to drive home the point.
Was it too late for the old guard? Was a shake-up needed, especially after a 4-0 whitewash in England earlier that season? The fourth Test in Adelaide was the last chance for the legends to respond.
Australia batted first, declaring at 604/7 on Day 2 with Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke scoring a double century each. India, by the 13th over of Day 3, stuttered to 87/4 in reply—Gambhir, Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar all back in the pavilion.
Enter Virat Kohli at No.6. Peter Siddle’s first ball, a fast, short-of length delivery, whizzed past. Throughout the series he had looked good, especially at Perth, but no match-altering knock had come from his bat. And the signs were ominous in Adelaide.
The combative Australia players had taken a special liking to the 24-year-old, one who didn’t mind giving it back unlike his Indian teammates.
Two Tests earlier, at Sydney, Kohli’s face had made it to the front pages of Australian newspapers. “Fingergate” labelled The Melbourne Age, after Kohli had flipped the middle finger at the heckling SCG crowd.
“I agree cricketers don’t have to retaliate. what when the crowd says the worst things about your mother and sister. the worst I’ve heard (sic)” Kohli tweeted. He escaped with a hefty fine, but Australians had taken note of Indian young gun.
At Adelaide, Kohli needed to keep his aggression in check. He did. Before he crossed 15, Laxman too fell. It was now up to Kohli and Wriddhiman Saha—he was playing only his second Test and after a two-year gap—with only the tail to come. The fightback began.
His limited-overs abilities were known but Kohli, the dominating Test batsman who controls the game and delivering more often than not, was still in the making. A subdued Test debut in the West Indies soon after the 2011 World Cup win meant he was not picked for the subsequent England tour. Australia was a big challenge, and he had riled up the hostile crowd.
The battle was intense. Nothing over the top, Kohli used solid defence to keep the Australians at bay. Nathan Lyon, Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus, Ryan Harris, and Clarke kept coming, but Kohli was persistent. The battle of attrition was interspersed with lofted shots over mid-on or the pull. The 50 was reached in 100 balls. No Indian centurion in the series and Kohli had raised hopes, and the prospect of saving India from follow-on.
Saha was the perfect ally, but just when it looked like India would play out a session without losing a wicket, Saha was out to Harris close to tea. In the third over after the break, two more wickets fell. India on 230/8 and Kohli 91*, he was fast running out of partners. Ishant Sharma, his Delhi teammate, dug in. His first Test hundred came off 199 balls, 13 innings and seven months after debut
Kohli fell on 116 and India were 272 all out. But he had left the Australia bowlers tired and the follow-on was not enforced. The visitors lost, to concede the series 4-0, though Kohli had helped firm up the resolve to back youngsters.
From getting abused at the SCG to getting a standing ovation at the Adelaide Oval, his fledgling Test career had come a full circle in Australia. A love affair with Adelaide was born.
When Kohli arrived in Australia next, in late 2014, he had grown in stature. The batting greats had retired and he was anointed deputy to skipper MS Dhoni. But he had just endured a batting nightmare in England, against swing and seam. His tally read 134 runs in five matches, averaging 13.40.
Adelaide again offered Kohli the chance to rise again, in the first Test. Leading the team as Dhoni served a suspension, he seized the game with breathtaking centuries in both innings. The cricket world, and the Australian fans, admired the way he met aggression with aggression in a fourth innings chase that would have been achieved but for a lack of support at the other end.
By the time the series ended, he had scored two more centuries, and had taken over as Test captain after Dhoni’s dramatic exit in Melbourne.
The circle hit the high point in 2018-19. This time Kohli led India to a series-opening win in Adelaide. He didn’t score a century but marshalled his troops superbly. India would go on to clinch the series 2-1, a historic first for India in Australia.
India start another Test series at Adelaide, with a day-night game starting on December 17. The pink kookaburra ball and the transition phase between daylight and floodlight are seen as extra challenge against rivals thirsting to avenge the reverse two years ago.
As one who relishes setting the agenda, Kohli’s halo can glow in the twilight zone.