From Shikhar Dhawan mocking an injured Shane Watson in 2013 to David Warner used as an official provocateur during the 2014-15 tour; to resist the “mental disintegration” in 2004 to childish fights on the field even after the death of Phillip Hughes.
There was a time when the rivalry between India and Australia seemed to have come in a chirp of real physical shots on the pitch. The 2018-19 tour of India to Australia had all it takes to be the ugliest ever, but before that happened, we had the Cape Town tampering scandal and something changed.
That series featured mostly funny jokes, but nothing as bad as we used to see when India played in Australia. Later last year, during the World Cup, Indian captain Virat Kohli asked Indian fans to stop whistling Steven Smith, who had had his time and paid his debts to return to the pitch for the first time since. the expiry of its ban.
Therefore, prior to the start of the 2020-21 test series, we have reached a stage where some have wondered whether this newfound respect between these teams will actually compromise the intensity and integrity of the tests.
On the eve of the first Adelaide Test, which starts on Thursday, Kohli was asked what the reasons for the better relationships were, and his answer summed up the evolution of the rivalry: These teams play IPL a lot together and therefore know each other. other better. All the characters in this narrative are also older, wiser, and more confident in their place in the world.
Since the Cape Town incident, Australia has recognized that it is lacking when it comes to its own behavior and has therefore worked to find the right balance between competitiveness and model behavior. That said, this was a year where people re-examined their priorities in life and realized how unwanted certain things had been.
“It’s a combination of all of these factors,” Kohli said. “I think this year has also made people realize that a lot of things may not have been necessary in the past where you hold a grudge and have unnecessary tension between teams and individuals, which is absolutely pointless. You will continue to be professional and make sure you being positive and aggressive in your body language and the way you do things on the pitch.
“But I don’t think things are going to be as personal as they used to be, partly because we understand that we are contributing to a wider cause. And it’s the quality of cricket that needs to stand out. Of course, you’re going to try to get people out, you’re going to try to score. points, but at the end of the day the useless things will be filtered out practically by themselves “.
Australian claims of trying to do better have not always been taken at face value, but Kohli admitted that they have changed “to some extent”. “It could be the pinnacle of playing IPL together, a lot of IPL cricket, Australia changing their approach to some degree, and also the way things have turned out this year,” he said. “Everyone is just grateful for the opportunity to get back on the pitch. It’s not that the matches haven’t been as intense or competitive, it’s just the useless things that have been filtered out. I feel there’s a lot more respect. Between the sides, you can see it on the pitch and I hope cricket continues to be competitive.
“We shouldn’t have to compromise on the quality of cricket. The chatter will go on here and there all the time. This is the highest level of cricket we play, and it will be very competitive. There will be tension., There will be stress, there will be emotions that we play. flare up from time to time. I no longer anticipate anything becoming personal. I think we, all of us, are also getting smarter and [are] a few more years in our careers. So we will make better and smarter choices and make sure the quality of cricket remains. “
We will try to make things as difficult as possible for the opponents, and that is the beauty of Test cricket. You can appreciate the efforts made by both teams at the end of five days and make sure you don’t take anything off the pitch is what I meant.Virat Kohli
The dichotomy in all of this is that Kohli is well regarded in Australia because he gives back everything he has; in Greg Chappell’s words, this makes him the most Australian non-Australian. Kohli was asked if players felt vilified by doing what they are at certain times, which is to give their all within the rules to win the game for their teams.
“The media have the full right and space to see things and perceive things as and how they want,” said Kohli. “For us, as cricketers, we understand that we do what is necessary for the team at the time. To make sure we move forward as a team, whether it’s to stand up to some chirping on the pitch or just be aggressive in our own. plans or our body language as part.
“At the highest level, the quality of cricket cannot be compromised. If you come out on the pitch thinking we’re going to have smiles and handshakes all day – and you know, we’re not going to be that competitive or aggressive in our body language – then I think it’s a misconception to have, you have to maintain the dignity of the sport, but you also have to understand that you are competing at the highest level with two quality teams fighting each other.
“And there will be times when things get rough and teams line up against each other, but not in a disrespectful way, that’s what I meant. There is definitely a lot more to Test cricket. someone’s performance or someone’s grit and character come at the end of five days, that’s what I believe.
“And during the five days, obviously the crowd will try to make things as difficult as possible for us. We will try to make things as difficult as possible for the opponents, and that is the beauty of Test cricket. You can appreciate the efforts made by both teams at the end of the five days and make sure you don’t take anything off the pitch, that’s what I meant.
“But on the pitch, things are going to be competitive, it’s going to be high-tension cricket because there are quality players on both teams hungry and eager to perform for their teams and make sure they help their team win. It definitely is. competitive as it has always been in so many years between India and Australia “.
In other words, hard but fair. How much more Australian can Kohli get?
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo