Kohli is winning the war of the words

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

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    In 25 years of watching cricket, I have never seen a Test captain display the kind of histrionics we witnessed from Virat Kohli during the second Test.

    From Day 2 onwards, Kohli was like a rampant bull on the field – glaring, gesticulating, challenging, mocking and abusing.

    Yet he wasn’t out of control. Kohli’s naked aggression and fury was calculated and clever.

    He might have failed again with the bat, but make no mistake, Kohli was a significant reason India completed a rousing come-from-behind win. Undoubtedly concerned about the sleepy state of his side during their first Test loss and ordinary first-day effort at Bangalore, Kohli took it upon himself to energise his charges and change the tone of the series.

    Up to that point, relations between the sides had been relatively genial. There had been plenty of back and forth, but little spice to these exchanges.

    The Australians appeared relaxed, whether batting or bowling. I bet this would have irked Kohli, who has experienced first-hand the hostile environment the Australians create for touring teams.

    Kohli wanted Australia to feel as though they were under siege. He sought to shove the tourists entirely out of their comfort zone. With the series slipping through his fingers, the skipper’s admirable passion and competitive gusto flooded the Chinnaswamy Stadium.

    Despite not bowling a single over, he managed to will himself upon the contest in the field.

    He did this not just through the typical captaincy route of employing attacking fields and voraciously encouraging his teammates, Kohli also targeted each and every Australian batsman with verbals, which seemingly ranged from parody to taunts to outright scorn.

    Even that didn’t satiate Kohli’s hunger for cricketing chaos. So he frequently turned his back on the game, faced the stands and gestured animatedly to the crowd. Kohli wanted the spectators to match his fierce intensity. He wouldn’t be happy until the Australians felt as if the whole of India had turned against them.

    At his behest, the stadium became a cauldron. This environment energised the Indian players, while clearly having a negative impact on some of the Australians.

    India's captain Virat Kohli

    His manic fidgeting aside, Australian skipper Steve Smith typically is a sketch of serenity at the crease.

    Smith often becomes agitated while in the field and smears his heart across his sleeve. With blade in hand, however, he rarely is riled by any antics from bowlers or fieldsmen. That wasn’t the case in Bangalore.

    As Indian paceman Ishant Sharma pulled faces at him and Kohli berated him from the slip cordon, Smith slowly began to lose focus.

    Soon he was engaging with both men, as well as spinner Ravi Jadeja, who mocked Smith’s twitching and twiddling. This was a win for Kohli.

    The Indians distracted Smith and provoked him into behaving in an unnatural manner. The Australian captain’s final act of the match was a self-confessed “brain fade”, when he looked to his dressing rooms for assistance while weighing up whether to use the DRS.

    Australian captain Steve Smith leaves the field

    Moments earlier, when Smith had been adjudged LBW to Umesh Yadav, Kohli had twice screamed “F–k off” at him amid a vicious send-off. Several times across the Test the TV cameras caught Kohli giving similarly foul-mouthed farewells to dismissed Australian batsmen.

    This was unacceptable from Kohli, and the same goes for the comparable send offs Mitchell Starc is fond of delivering.

    As Smith trudged off the Chinnaswamy for the last time in the Test, he looked well and truly frazzled. His opposite number had got under his skin. Kohli had claimed victory in the war of words.

    The Indian skipper didn’t stop there, though. He sensed that his bullying behaviour had rattled the Australians so, even once the Test was finished, he continued to turn the screws on them. He could have left the ICC to deal with Smith’s DRS blunder, but instead Kohli whipped the media into a frenzy with his pointed criticisms and accusations.

    This seemed as calculated as his on-field onslaught. Kohli wanted the Australians to feel under pressure for as long as possible, to make this loss follow them around for as long as possible.

    His aim since Day 2 had been simple – mental disintegration.

    The Australians pioneered this strategy of raking their opponents over the coals in any way they saw fit. Now Kohli has turned it against them. How Australia handle this stress will help determine whether they can stay in this series.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco