Acting India captain Virat Kohli says he and his teammates will cope with the extra pace and bounce that comes with returning to Australia – and facing Mitch Johnson for the first time in his home conditions.
Johnson, newly crowned as ICC Cricketer of the Year for a second time, bowled only 19 overs in the 2013 away series when Australia was pummeled by India, and missed all of India’s last visit in 2011-12 due to injury.
The only non-tailender Indian batsman to have faced Johnson in Tests in Australia is captain M.S. Dhoni, who will miss the first Test due to injury.
When India played in Australia in 2011-12, they had a total of five days’ match practice before the series and were thumped 4-0. This time they have only four days’ play across two matches, the first of which starts on Monday at Glenelg.
“It should be enough. We don’t have any choice, I guess,” Kohli said on Sunday, after India trained the morning after it arrived in Adelaide. “We’ve got to do whatever we can with those four days of practice games, and the sessions in between.
“I think coming to Australia and playing, it’s more about the mindset rather than getting used to the conditions, because pace and bounce is something which you can get used to. But unless you’re mentally there, there’s no point of any sort of practice.”
India’s opposition, the Cricket Australia XI, boasts only five players with Sheffield Shield experience, with wicketkeeper Ryan Carters accounting for about half of their combined 43 matches. The hosts’ pace depth was severely weakened by the withdrawal of Gurinder Sandhu due to NSW shield duties, with his uncapped state colleague Harry Conway replacing him.
While the CA XI boasts a left-arm paceman in Josh Lalor, he is incomparable to Johnson in terms of pace or bounce.
Kohli said India were “absolutely” capable of withstanding the threat posed by Johnson, who in the past year has dominated against both England and South Africa.
“He’s been bowling really well – everyone knows that. Credit to him for doing all that,” Kohli said. “We are equipped enough to tackle him on these pacy and bouncy wickets. I don’t see any good reason why we can’t come up and put up a good fight.
“It’s all about mentally being there. If you can visualise being in that battle and being on top, I think you’re going to be able to go out there and execute it. I think the guys in our team have the ability to do it … it’s all about being mentally present.”
Until Dhoni returns Kohli will be the only survivor from India’s batting order from their most recent visit to Australia, due to the retirements of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman and omissions of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. The 26-year-old was India’s best batsman in that series and said he would enter this series emboldened by that experience.
“There’s more pace and bounce, so the shot selection becomes very important. That’s what I saw last time – you need a lot more patience compared to back home. You’ve got to pick the right balls to hit in the right areas and figure out with the big fields what are your spots and strengths are – and the areas you should avoid early on with the new Kookaburra because it does quite a bit, especially on these tracks,” he said.
“I think Australia is a great place to bat on, once you get in. The morning session goes through [well for bowlers]. The guys need to realise that and play themselves in. Eventually I experienced that last time as well. It’s a beautiful place to play cricket as a batsman, it’s a lovely place to be when you’re 30 or 40 and the ball gets a bit old.”
On Kohli’s previous visit he was fined for an obscene finger gesture, which he made in response to crowd taunting. On that issue, he said he was “certainly expecting it again”.
“I had quite a bit of it last time, but I loved it. Once you perform in those conditions, the people love you here and they love a good fight,” he said.”We’re here to play aggressive cricket, play the brand of cricket that Australia plays. They can expect a lot of fightbacks on the the bat and there’s going to be more aggression this time around with the whole squad.”
A suggestion from Peter Siddle that Kohli would be daunted leading his country in Tests for the first time was rebuffed with a wry smile.
“Well that’s for me to know and for me to experience, to go out there and know how it is. I’ve played against him, he [Siddle] is quite a competitive guy, so I’m not surprised there’s already some banter starting from that end.
“But I don’t mind all that. I’m here to experience this new stage, this new area for me, captaining in the Test format, and I’m pretty confident of the ability the guys have. It’s up to me how I handle them, how I handle different situations,” he said.
“I love leading the side, I love being captain, I love putting my first foot forward and putting in my [views] throughout the game. I don’t see any issues on why I can’t be up to the challenge. As long as the team backs me and puts in the performances we want, I think I’m going to look good at the end of the day.”
Kohli said little about the potential for Michael Clarke to miss the start of the series, on the basis he was unsure about the severity of the Australia captain’s hamstring injury.
CA XI (from): Ashton Turner (c – WA), Ryan Carters (NSW), Harry Conway (NSW), Alex Gregory (SA), Sam Grimwade (Vic), Seb Gotch (Vic), Josh Lalor (NSW), David Moody (WA), Jonte Pattison (NSW), Matt Short (Vic), Kelvin Smith (SA), Nick Stevens (Qld).INDIA (from): Virat Kohli (c), Varun Aaron, Ravi Ashwin, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Naman Ojha, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Lokesh Rahul, Suresh Raina, Wriddhiman Saha, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Karn Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Murali Vijay, Umesh Yadav.