Superstar skipper Virat Kohli yesterday played down suggestions Australia are vulnerable after the ball-tampering scandal, as his India side try to win a series Down Under for the first time.
Australia begin the opening Test in a scorching Adelaide today on a run of poor form and without batting powerhouses Steve Smith and David Warner, who remain banned.
Without them, India could have a golden opportunity to break their series drought. But dangerman Kohli — who electrified viewers with viral footage of a pre-Test batting exhibition in the nets — said he was taking nothing for granted.
“I personally don’t think any Australian side is vulnerable at home,” he said at his pre-match press conference, where a 12-man squad was named that included a recall for veteran opener Murali Vijay.
“You cannot take any side for granted. Whatever happened, the skill level is still there. However much you talk or behave, it’s your skill that counts. They still have the skill to dominate at home. We’re not taking anything for granted.”
Much will depend on how Kohli, who has accumulated 1,063 runs in 18 Test innings this year, performs on a ground he admits is his favourite away from home. “I love coming to this ground, the city in general,” he said.
“That’s not to say that performances are always guaranteed in a certain place, but at Adelaide I feel different from many other places.”
If his aggressive net session on Tuesday is anything to go by, Australia’s bowlers will have their work cut out. “Wow,” was all former Australian wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist could muster after watching him in action, while ex-England skipper Michael Vaughan tweeted: “I get the sense he is in the mood!”
Vijay, who was dropped following a pair in the second Test against England this year, won back his place after promising young opener Prithvi Shaw was ruled out after suffering ankle ligament damage in a warm-up game.
India opted to hold back the naming of their final XI until the morning of the Test as they mull whether to play all-rounder Hanuma Vihari or hard-hitting batter Rohit Sharma. Ishant Sharma, Mohamed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah will lead their pace attack — ranked among the country’s strongest ever — along with off-spinner Ravi Ashwin. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav missed out.
“The guys (bowlers) feel that they are at the peak of their skill levels at the moment and they are looking forward to this challenge,” said Kohli. “The bowlers are of the mindset that whatever the conditions or however hard it might be, they are just looking forward to performing.”
But the world’s number one Test side are only too aware that away from home, their form is fragile.
They went down 2-1 in South Africa and then 4-1 in England this year. While the bowlers are in a great space, Kohli has so often carried the team and he urged character from his fellow batsmen.
“If the batsmen apply themselves it can be a great place to bat,” he said of Adelaide. “But it takes character. And I think the Australia team has great skills, especially their bowlers are really strong. We need to step up as a batting group, we understand that. There just needs to be a collective performance (bowlers and batters) on a regular basis.”
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