Kohli, the highly paid head of the Indian snake


I am enjoying the rivalry – and the antagonism – that is going on in this series between India and Australia, writes Dean Jones in his column in the Sydney Morning Herald.

For most of the 70 years of Test cricket played between Australia and India, the Australians have bullied India into submission. Over the past few years, India has bounced back with a vengeance and a big part of that change has been due to the new phenom of world cricket, Virat Kohli.

He is critical to India’s chances and the country’s cricket-loving public would have held its collective breath when he hurt his shoulder on the opening day. And it was a bitter blow to the home team when play resumed on day two without their inspirational leader on the field.

I am an unabashed Kohli fan. I commentate all around the world and I love watching this kid bat and lead his team. He is such an interesting character. Away from the cricket, he is quite a humble kid. Always polite, and always asking questions on how he is batting and what I am up to. He just loves the game and the challenges that go with it.

Kohli is now Australia’s No. 1 enemy or the “head of the snake”, as Nathan Lyon has put it. The Australian boys are quite prepared to take it up to him and this series has been compulsive viewing. This is what Test match cricket is about. It’s the same when we play England for the Ashes or when India meet Pakistan.

Test cricket is at its best when there is an edge to it. With the extra interest from fans and the media in a big series such as this, the contest seems to have become personal, very personal.

To understand Kohli’s personality is to first understand where he comes from. Kohli is from Delhi, the cosmopolitan capital city of India. I have noticed a huge change in its youth since 1990. They are fast becoming the “go-getters” of the world, with a sense of brashness and aggression. They are a new generation who are quite aggressive in seeking their goals in life and not frightened to steamroll anyone who gets in their way. There is no greater example than Kohli, who happens to be the icon of this new Indian generation.

In my opinion, he is the best batsmen in the world in all formats. He knows what he wants and will jump over or maul anyone who is in his way. You throw sand in his face, expect a tonne of it being thrown back!

It’s amazing how Kohli has transformed his game and his brand over the past few years. He knows how to antagonise, annoy and alienate opponents, and does it with consummate ease, and this new Indian generation is loving every bit of it.

When Kohli was young, he idolised the way South Africa’s Herschelle Gibbs played, with no fear. He also was in awe of the daring strokeplay of India’s Yuvraj Singh. Once Yuvraj heard about Virat’s adulation, he sent him some brand-new kits with bats, pads, boots and much more. Their friendship has been very close since.

The Indian corporate world loves Kohli’s style, attitude and aggression. Forbes India estimated he earns $27 million a year and he has more than 20 companies endorsing him. Kohli commands more than $600,000 for three days of appearances and more than $1.5 million an endorsement.

He is very watchable on TV. “When Kohli is batting, the TV viewership goes up around 50-60 per cent and when he gets out, many do turn off the TV,” says Sanjog Gupta, the senior vice-president of Star Sports. “He is very much watched, similar to Sachin Tendulkar.”

Kohli is widely expected to become the first cricketer to enter the top 10 Forbes list of the world’s highest-paid athletes. He is already 119th in Twitter with more than 14 million followers and has received more than 35 million “likes” on Facebook.

Kohli believes in hard work and that he can do anything on a cricket field. He loves getting into hot spots on the field to make sure he is in his opponents’ face. Kohli is the only captain I know who pumps up the crowd, asking them for their support. He knows the importance of the Indian fans’ input and how it can help his team’s performance. He doesn’t just want 11 Indian players in the Australian faces, he demands the same from the 30,000-strong Indian crowds. Make this ground the most hostile environment the Australians will experience. It’s no different to what the MCG crowds have given to opposition teams.

So why don’t Australian fans like him? I feel he is almost as disliked as villainous English captain Douglas Jardine, who started the Bodyline series in 1932-33. Is this what needs to happen for Australia and India to build up their rivalry? If so, I have no problem with it. I love the aggression that’s being produced in the media and from the fans. Even the respective CEOs from each country have offered their 10 cents’ worth. It’s game on.

There is no doubt Kohli’s self-assuredness sits well with the BCCI board and their coach Anil Kumble. They are encouraging him to continue with his “in-your-face” attitude. Maybe Australian fans don’t like the way Kohli nonchalantly walks over and eyeballs the Australian captain. But perhaps responding to these tactics from Kohli will bring the best out of Steve Smith’s captaincy. Let’s hope so.

Kohli’s approach reminds me a lot of Vivian Richards when he took over from Clive Lloyd. Australian fans were quite happy with the aggressive way that Richards captained his West Indian team, but not so much with the way Kohli captains his team. Do they not respect him the same way we respected Viv? Surely, Virat has got enough runs on the board now to get that respect?

Well, all I can say is to beat the Indians is to beat them at their own game. Don’t worry about what type of pitch they put up, as they have to play on it too. Remember Pune? We proved to ourselves that Australia can be competitive in the “final frontier”, as Steve Waugh put it a few years ago.

I say enjoy the challenge. Enjoy the silence of the Indian crowd when you are on top. If Kohli gets under your skin, don’t look at him. Turn your back or offer the cheeky smile that Sir Donald Bradman offered Jardine. Whichever way this series finishes, it will be remembered for a long time. That’s how it should be and that’s why Test cricket will always be above all other formats of the game.