“Don’t sledge Virat Kohli” would’ve been the clear-cut order from rival skipper Steve Smith just a week ago, but has India’s Pune capitulation opened the door for Australia to try to break the Indian captain mentally?
If it wasn’t the 333-run hammering the rampant tourists dished out in three days in the opening Test that makes Kohli’s mindset a bit flimsy, then certainly his second-innings dismissal should make him edgy heading to Bangalore.
For Harbhajan Singh, who predicted a 4-0 whitewash, Kohli’s No.1-ranked Test team have already been a disappointment in front of their adoring fans.
Not that too many Australians thought Harbhajan was full of it.
The tourists had lost nine on the trot on the dustbowls of Asia, and India entered the series on the back of a ruthless 4-0 demolition of England at home.
So surely the huge outsiders are now inside Kohli’s head?
Given the colossal margin of victory, a lot of India’s pre-series planning can be scrunched up and turfed out, especially that regarding Steve O’Keefe, whose 12-70 was as unexpected as it was mesmerising.
It was O’Keefe’s humiliation of Kohli for 13 on Day 3 that was the most telling.
The sublime batsman – the best player of spin bowling in the world – left a delivery from the left-armer that went straight on and cannoned into Kohli’s off-stump.
It was just about the last thing you’d expect from the skipper in home conditions.
Such a gross error of judgement begs the question: do Australia seize the chance to prod the skipper verbally when he comes out to bat in the second Test?
Perhaps Dale Steyn summed it up best when he spoke about targeting Smith leading into last summer’s home series against South Africa.
“If you can cut off the head of the snake, the rest of the body tends to fall,” Steyn said.
“He is the leader and if we can cause a bit of chaos there, sometimes it does affect the rest.”
Mike Hussey warned against verbally sparring with Kohli before the series started.
They’ve tried it before, in 2014 in Australia, thinking his ego would distract him and lead to his downfall. Instead, Kohli thrived.
His 169 in the drawn Boxing Day Test as players, including Mitchell Johnson, targeted him showed he loves the confrontation and getting in a scrap.
But perhaps this is different.
Kohli now leads India and is under the pump to ensure he doesn’t gain membership to the tiny club of Indian captains that have lost a series at home to Australia.
His DRS referrals in Pune were poor. He’s at his home ground in Bangalore, which one could argue heightens the pressure.
And then there was that leave to O’Keefe’s non-turner.
The pressure perhaps showed post-Pune, when Kohli took a bunch of players hiking up the Western Ghats mountain range.
Is it a punt worth taking? You mentally splinter the skipper – their best batsman and talismanic leader – and you’re well on your way to shaking up those around him.
So who’s the Australian player that could do Australia’s dirty work? It’s not going to be Smith, nor rookies Peter Handscomb, Matt Renshaw or O’Keefe himself.
The Marshes and Nathan Lyon don’t seem like the type to get involved in the dark art of mental disintegration, while fast bowlers Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood probably won’t get close enough.
David Warner once was an attack dog, but it’s understood he backed away from on-field confrontation after Cricket Australia boss James Sutherland had a dig at him publicly.
The leaves wicketkeeper Matthew Wade. Now there’s a second-Test subplot with plenty of intrigue.