CHENNAI: When the India-Australia ODI series starts in Chennai on September 17, it will be almost six months after the Test series between the teams finished in March. What happened on the field back then may not matter, considering the change in format. What the teams might remember still is Virat Kohli’s remark after the final Test that he won’t be friends with the Australians off the field, for things that happened on it.
Bitter rivals, who have produced exciting cricket across formats starting with the 2001 series in India, cricketers of the two countries have also made headlines for reasons other than cricket. But Kohli’s comments after a series that saw the visitors mock his shoulder injury, other than refer to him as the ‘head of the snake’ stood out, because no Indian or Australian captain had said anything like that before him.
Speaking to Express at a promotional event for the ODIs, Michael Hussey appeared somewhat surprised. “Australians are taught to play hard. They’re also taught there’s a line and you don’t step over that. I don’t know what was going on in the middle that caused Virat to say that. Obviously, there’s something breaking down there. It’s not good because you want the game to be played hard and then you expect players to have good spirit off the field. I played hard against India, but also spoke to them in the hotel. There was learning from each other.”
The former batsman felt acrimony between teams has subsided with the advent of IPL. “I shared dressing rooms with Dhoni, Raina, Bravo. Cultural barriers were broken. I still played pretty hard against them when the countries met, but a relationship had grown. These days the umpires and match referees are strict. If someone steps over the line, he’s punished. I don’t know why Virat said that, but I was surprised.”
Part of Ricky Ponting’s team that won the ODI series in India in 2009, Hussey rates Kohli a charismatic leader. “He leads by example, is energetic, and has a huge will to win. He gets emotional on the field and shows his passion. That’s why I likened him to Ponting. His determination was inpsiring. As a player, you want to follow people like that.”
Steve Smith’s team has not done well in the sub-continent and against a side that believes it can beat anybody at home, Hussey thinks they will be underdogs. “India will be the favourites, but Australia will also feel they have a chance and come here with confidence. We’ve had success in this format in India and this time with both teams pushing to be No 1, it’ll be a hotly-contested series. I believe there’s experience and quality to test India.”