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Would sledging Kohli cut the head off the snake or merely poke the bear?

Will Knight Columnist

By Will Knight, Will Knight is a Roar Expert

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    “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.

    Virat Kohli of India

    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.

    Will Knight
    Will Knight

    An AAP writer for more than a decade, Will Knight does his best to make sense of all things cricket, rugby union and rugby league, all while trying to have a laugh along the way. You can find him on Twitter @WKnightrider.

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    The Crowd Says (21)

    • March 4th 2017 @ 5:54am
      vaibhav said | March 4th 2017 @ 5:54am | ! Report

      dont you dare mess with king kohli… the best batsman of the era

      • March 4th 2017 @ 10:42pm
        Bobbo7 said | March 4th 2017 @ 10:42pm | ! Report

        Kohli isn’t even the best batsman playing this Test series. Very good player on flat decks but let’s not forget his average of 13 in England

    • March 4th 2017 @ 7:23am
      Dom said | March 4th 2017 @ 7:23am | ! Report

      Interesting angle, but I reckon sledging has zero effect on 95 per cent of international cricketers, especially batsmen. Sledging’s really just a kind of morale booster for the team doing the sledging.

      Kohli is probably the best bat in the world – he knows how to concentrate. Good bowling or poor decision-making will get him out, not sledging.

      • March 4th 2017 @ 8:09am
        jameswm said | March 4th 2017 @ 8:09am | ! Report

        It’s not so much sledging, but I reckon you could make his batting less aggressive. Once you sense he wants to take the bowler on, you’d call out something along the lines of “His ego will make him attack us now”, and he’d probably go back into his shell.

        Sledging isn’t about trying to upset them, which won’t work. It’s about getting into their head a bit.

      • March 4th 2017 @ 8:10am
        BBA said | March 4th 2017 @ 8:10am | ! Report

        In anycase I think the question is more whether Aus can resist sledging Kohli

      • March 4th 2017 @ 9:58am
        qwetzen said | March 4th 2017 @ 9:58am | ! Report

        Don’t know. But it’s often entertaining watching working class Oz quicks sledging the pampered princes of Indian & Pakistani batting.

    • March 4th 2017 @ 8:57am
      A keeper said | March 4th 2017 @ 8:57am | ! Report

      Now if Wade just randomly says niice Gary over and over this wil distract kohli because a) the delivery wasnt that good and b). Who’s Gary.

      If that doesn’t work they could start talking about a cauliflower.

    • March 4th 2017 @ 9:15am
      Justin from Canberra said | March 4th 2017 @ 9:15am | ! Report

      I’m not sure Steyn was advocating sledging as part of the tactics in attacking Smith. Kohli has scored more runs in Tests against Australia than against any other team, including 6 centuries. I would advise not wasting your breath and concentrate on the immediate task of trying to get him out for as few runs as possible, and pressure him that way. Both snakes and bears (and opposition captains) are deserving of respect first and foremost, especially whilst we are guests in their country. I hate to think how the Indian crowds would respond if they witnessed the Aussies abusing their captain; a few million more snakes and bears to contend with….

    • March 4th 2017 @ 9:16am
      Linphoma said | March 4th 2017 @ 9:16am | ! Report

      This dish is best served silently. For Kohli to cook the best he needs the silence of his adoring crowd as he tramps back to the stands. When he gets out, fielding side sends him off with silence. The inference is, job well done, nothing extraordinary.

    • March 4th 2017 @ 11:05am
      G said | March 4th 2017 @ 11:05am | ! Report

      It will poke the bear. Remember when Mitch Johnson would be playing poorly, then the opposition would sledge him and he’d smash a half century then rip through batting line-ups? That’s what Kohli is like, just leave him be!

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