Can India Cope without Virat Kohli in Australia?

Virat Kohli, the talismanic captain of the India cricket team, is set to miss three out of four of his country’s Test Matches against Australia on this winter’s tour. He will return home after the First Test in order to attend the birth of his first child.

The 32-year-old will leave the tour party after the completion of the First Test, which begins on December 17. His wife is due to give birth in January, and complications around the quarantining process during the Covid 19 pandemic make it impractical for him to return for the remaining Tests.

Anyone arriving in Australia currently must quarantine for 14 days, which jeopardises Kohli’s participation in the remainder of the Test series. He will play in the three Twenty20s and three one-day internationals that take place before the Test series, though.

Kohli’s absence will leave a huge hole in the Indian team, and there must be concerns about how the side will cope on Australian soil without their inspirational skipper. Vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane will skipper the side in Kohli’s absence, and batsman Rohit Sharma has been added to the squad after initially being omitted due to a hamstring injury.

A talismanic presence will absent in Australia

The question that must be nagging away at the minds of many Indian cricket fans is surely whether India can cope with the absence of their star player and inspirational leader. After all, Kohli averages 55.29 as a batsman on Australian soil. Only Wally Hammond and Jack Hobbs have scored centuries as overseas players in Tests in Australia.

Kohli is much more than just the captain of the side, of course. It is his inspirational batting and obdurate spirit at the crease that India will miss too. He has often dragged his team to victory almost singlehandedly with his batting over the years, racking up more Test victories (33) than any other Indian captain.

Kohli has missed just two Tests since becoming captain of India in 2014, so coping with his absence is not something that the team is particularly accustomed to doing. Yet there is evidence that they can cope without their talisman, and even thrive without him.

Although Kohli played very well during India’s last visit to Australia in 2018, it was Cheteshwar Pujara who really stepped up to the plate, scoring 521 runs. Those runs were the key difference between the teams as India captured their first ever Test series victory in Australia.

In 2017 in India, Kohli was not absent from the side that faced the Aussies, but he did not play well. His average during that series was a mere 9.2. That is probably the lowest statistical point of his glittering 86-match Test career. It is worth noting, though, that India still won that series 2-1.

Kohli did miss the Fourth Test of that series, though, with Rahane taking his place as captain. The stand-in skipper earned praise as he led the team to victory. That bodes well for when Rahane steps in as captain at the MCG, SCG and the Gabba in the forthcoming series in Australia.

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The choice of who replaces Kohli in the middle order will probably come down to two 21-year-old players: Shubman Gill or Prithvi Shaw. Both are impressive performers. Gill has an average of 73.55 in first-class cricket, while Shaw has been compared to Sachin Tendulkar no less.

He is also the youngest Indian player to score a century on his Test debut, against West Indies in Rajkot in 2018. He reached his ton off just 99 balls that day, before being dismissed with a score of 134, a tally that included 19 fours.

But despite the impressive potential of those two youngsters, the shoes that one of them will be expected to fill are huge. Very few players in the history of the game have a record as impressive as that of Virat ‘the King’ Kohli.

The 32-year-old has played 145 innings in his 86-match Test career, scoring 7240 runs at an average of 53.63 (slightly below his average on Australian soil. He has scored 27 centuries and 24 50s, at a strike rate of 57.68. He has struck 811 fours and 22 sixes in Test matches. He has been not out 10 times.

Kohli’s absence does seem to have affected the bookies’ assessment of the series somewhat, however. The hosts are clear favourites to win the Test series with Betfair, who are offering odds of 4/7 on the Aussies winning the series. India are priced at 16/5, and if you think that the series will end all square the odds on a draw are 7/2.

Even with Kohli being absent, those odds on India winning look pretty long to us, and enterprising punters may well fancy a wager on the Indians at that price, despite their historical lack of success on Australian soil.

In the 48 Tests played between the teams in Australia, Australia have won 29 and India just seven, while there have been 12 draws. India have only one series win their name on Australian soil, but it came very recently, during their 2018/19 trip Down Under. Australia were without key players David Warner, Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft for that trip, though.

Cheteshwar Pujara was the key man for India on that trip. He scored an impressive 123 in the first innings and 71 in the second innings of the First Test in Adelaide – a performance that helped the Indians to their first Test victory on Australian soil since 2008. Indian fans will be looking to him again in the absence of Kohli for much of the coming series.

In the 12 Test series between the countries played on Australian soil since the first trip by India in 1947/48, Australia have won eight and three series have been drawn.

Vaughan: Kohli should not captain India’s Twenty20 side

Kohli will be definitely missing from the last three Tests in Australia, but he will play in the Twenty20 matches and one-day internationals. His presence in the team is not a matter for debate, but one former international captain, Michael Vaughan, has questioned Kohli captaincy in the limited overs form of the game.

“Not many people will say this but I don’t think he’s a great T20 captain,” Vaughan told BBC’s Tuffers and Vaughan podcast.

“A lot of countries like England and Australia are splitting the captaincy roles because it’s so much work and so hard to do all three. Rohit Sharma, for me, is a better T20 captain.”

Whether India take Vaughan’s advice remains to be seen, but it is unlikely, not least because Kohli’s charisma adds to the commercial potential of the Indian side. He is a true star, a player who draws the crowds like few can.

That is important for a tour where crowds are to be limited in Australian venues due to Covid restrictions. Cricket Australia has suffered losses in projected revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the governing body projecting a $120 million drop in revenue for the 2021/21 period.

The one-day series against India begins on November 27, and it will provide a necessary boost in revenue for Cricket Australia, despite the restrictions on crowd numbers. Every venue for the forthcoming Test series has been compelled to reduce the number of people who can attend the matches.

The Adelaide Oval and the SCG in Sydney are limited to 50% capacity for their matches, while the Gabba in Brisbane is set to operate at 70%. CA will try and raise those figures, though, according to their interim CEO Nick Hockley.

“We’re going to give all priority to safety but we’ll continue to work with the authorities to see if we can’t increase those capacities a bit as we move forward,” he told SEN.

India are expected to arrive in Australia on Thursday this week. The tour party will quarantine for 14 days, and will also be confined to a biosecure bubble for the duration of the tour. Travel arrangements for family members are yet to be confirmed, but a limited number of players’ family members may be allowed to attend.

Of course, it is a family matter that will see Kohli miss most of the Test series. While that undoubtedly hampers India’s chances of victory, it would be foolish to write off a team that bursts with such potential. Whoever ends up replacing Kohli in the batting line-up, the Australian players, and anyone else, would be foolish to write them off.

The prediction is that India will at least draw this series. Punters should take note.

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