MUMBAI: Former Australian skipper Allan Border credits Virat Kohli for playing a massive role in India’s aggressive approach. During a virtual media interaction from Queensland on Thursday, Border, having guided some hot-headed characters in the Australian team as skipper, said, “As a captain, I would love to be in a team with Virat.”
Border even extended the invitation to the Indian skipper and said he was more than welcome to play for Australia. “We were thinking he might think about having his newborn baby here because we can claim his offspring as Australian,” he joked.
The 65-year-old is excited to see cricket on his home soil again and the visiting Indian team is adding to the glint in his eyes.
What is Border’s prediction for the Border-Gavaskar series? The southpaw, who still holds the record for being the only batsman to score 150 in each innings (vs Pak, Lahore, 1980), says, “Very confident of Australia’s chances, especially when they are playing in Australia.” The reasons for his confidence are a quality pace attack comprising Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, a high class spinner in Nathan Lyon and the boost to the batting in the form of Steve Smith and David Warner and a battery of talented young players like Marnus Labuschagne, Will Pucovski and Cameron Green.
But the biggest factor, Border reckons, is Kohli’s departure for the birth of his first child after the first Test in Adelaide. “The one thing that is in Australia’s favour is Virat Kohli playing only the first Test. I think that is a big OUT for India. He is irreplaceable at the moment as a batsman and a leader. Should be 2-1 to Australia,” he prophecies.
Border clearly is a huge fan of the Indian skipper, but he also says the Aussies love to hate him. “He is an antagonist and plays aggressively,” he stresses.
“Look, I love the way he plays his game; he wears his heart on his sleeve. I like his aggression and passion for the game. India as a team will miss that. He is a special player, has serious talent and is part of this new India — that’s the way I look at it. The way India play the modern game, they have a very positive mindset, and Virat has led the way very well in those areas. I am a big fan,” Border gushed.
The 1987 World Cup winning captain says he appreciates the skill that Kohli has to change his game seamlessly across formats. “I like the way he can change his game between different formats. I think, if you go back in time when I was playing against someone like Sunil Gavaskar, we just had to bring only one type of game to the table,” Border said.
“If you look at Virat, he has done equally well in T20s, ODIs and Tests. There are a few of those who do it well around the world — Steve Smith, David Warner and AB de Villiers … That’s why I rate Virat so highly, because it’s not easy to chop and change your game plan … So, for me, he is right up there in the top echelon of Indian cricketers,” he adds.
While Kohli’s is obviously the biggest scalp for the Aussie bowlers, at least in the first Test, they would also like to see the back of Cheteshwar Pujara quickly. The Saurashtra batsman amassed 521 runs in the series the last time that India toured Down Under two years ago and struck three hundreds and blunted the Aussie attack by batting for long periods of time. This time though, he may suffer from lack of game time. Pujara hasn’t played any competitive cricket since the Ranji Trophy final in March between Saurashtra and Bengal in his hometown of Rajkot. Border says that as a player, he never liked too many breaks, especially if he was batting well and Pujara too could find the going tough.
“Someone like Pujara loves batting so much, I would imagine he would be going crazy without it. What he’s effectively going to do is go from a nets session into facing Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins with the new ball. That’s going to be hard work,” he says.
What will also be hard work is players adjusting to bio bubbles endlessly. Border reveals that in Queensland, where he is based, things are not too bad and there is not even a ‘mask is a must’ rule to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. He fears though for the mental health of players who have moved from one bio bubble in UAE to another one in Australia.
“I can’t imagine me being in a bubble. I don’t know how the players will be able to cope with moving from one bubble to another. More than the physical fatigue, they will struggle with mental fatigue. Hotel, bus, ground and back. This routine for months will be hard work. It could play a decisive role in the series and Indians could feel more isolated than Aussies,” is how he assesses things.
Border, who has witnessed maverick characters and intensive brooders during his long and illustrious career, feels players must find ways to entertain themselves and cites examples of Australian players travelling to Pakistan in the early days, feeling caged as they could not drink during outings. “So we often got into a team scenario where we had card nights and stuff. You must have characters in your team and find different ways of relaxing. We were fortunate to have a guy like Merv Hughes, who was very entertaining and kept the mood of the guys up,” he states.
Border also voiced his apprehension on the need to find a skipper after Tim Paine’s Test stint ends and stated that the captaincy going back to Smith will result in a media circus. “We have no obvious choice after Paine. I don’t think the selectors want to go back to Smith. The media will go all over the place and it will become a media circus which we don’t need. Let sleeping dogs lie and allow Smith to just make as many runs as he can,” he says.
The words ball tampering and Cape Town still rankle Aussies, but Border credits coach Justin Langer for making fans fall in love again with the Aussie team. “The win at all costs was not proving very popular. Justin has made the boys win, but with class.”
Border was a selector from 1998 to 2006 and was part of a selectorial team that took two contentious calls. Splitting the Test and ODI Captaincy. In 1997, the Australian selectors dropped Mark Taylor as ODI skipper and announced Steve Waugh as the captain. In 2002, they dropped Waugh as ODI skipper and appointed Ricky Ponting as the captain in coloured clothing. Both moves paid dividends as Australia won three successive World Cups. Even today, while Tim Paine leads the men in white, it is Aaron Finch that is in charge of the team in ODIs and T20s. Does split captaincy help? With Rohit Sharma doing well as IPL skipper of Mumbai Indians and also shining in the limited opportunities that he has got for India, there is talk that the white-ball captaincy should go to the Mumbai batsman.
Says Border, “Ideally, we would have one player to captain in different formats. But these days, it is a seamless transition as players play a lot of different formats across the world under different captains.”
The man who held the record of playing 153 successive Tests, which was broken by Alastair Cook (159), wants the Aussie selectors to punt on the talents of Victoria’s Will Puckovski and West Australian Cameron Green. He also warns India that the Aussies won’t find the off-spin of R Ashwin too difficult to handle on Australian pitches. “I think Yuzvendra Chahal would be very effective with his leg-spin. The Australians have historically also struggled against quality left-arm spin and that is where Ravindra Jadeja could come in,” he states.
(India’s first ODI against Australia will be telecast live at 8am, November 27, on Sony Ten 1, Sony Ten 3 and Sony Six channels)