Oh My God, It's Sydney Again: After Fingergate, Aussies Wary of Hostile Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli, India's new Test captain, will have bitter memories of Sydney when India played at the SCG in 2011. Sydney has been famous for controversies, including the infamous Monkeygate, featuring Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh.
Test matches between India and Australia have been like gory battles in recent years. Metaphorically, Sydney then is the ground that has seen the maximum blood - its pitches soaked in crimson hues of painful words and gestures. (Complete coverage of India's tour of Australia)
The series has been lost. MS Dhoni has quit mid-way. There were rumours of a rift and the Australians appear to have a saucy air of superiority. But India, under a young general in Virat Kohli, will be spoiling for a contest. Sydney beckons for the final contest where the victor will have the final bragging right, despite the series scoreline. (Also read: Scorelines don't matter, it's all about approach, says Shastri)
Sydney Cricket Ground is historic. Established in 1848, it is known to put spectators right in the middle of the action -- a fact Kohli would know all too well. The 26-year-old batsman, who has been at the forefront of recent verbal duels against Australia - had let his finger do the talking the last time India came for cricket.
Dubbed as the infamous 'Fingergate' scandal, the then 23-year-old had brandished his middle finger after being allegedly heckled by spectators. "I agree cricketers don't have to retaliate. What when the crowd says the worst things about your mother and sister. The worst I've heard (sic)," he had later tweeted. The Australian media though had spared no ink in publishing its opinion against the appalling episode. (Also read: Kohli now has 5 million followers on Twitter)
Just like when they did during the infamous Monkeygate scandal - also in Sydney Cricket Ground.
On the first day of the final Test of 2007-08 in Sydney, Andrew Symonds rose to become one of the most fortunate batsmen of all times. Adjudged not-out by Steve Bucknoor thrice, the only non-white Aussie player in that team made merry until he heard spinner Harbhajan Singh call him a "monkey". All hell broke loose and India-Australia cricket was never going to be the same.
"It was as if the series was Harbhajan Singh versus Australia," the 'Turbanator', who claimed innocence and escaped harsh punishment, told the Hindu after his return. Just for perspective, it was at a time when Kohli was still in the U-19 team.
Harbhajan had Sachin Tendulkar as witness during the Monkeygate hearing. He also had respectable legends like Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and VVS Laxman in the dressing room. In contrast, hot-headed Kohli does not have the luxury of seasoned campaigners in the dressing room in case matters become 'hot'. Dhoni will be on standby but knowing the former captain's demeanour, he will be happy to leave decisions on the young Turks and of course, the much-experienced team director, Ravi Shastri. (The Shastri itch for Dhoni?)
With controversial episodes somehow finding a way into Sydney matches between the two teams, the fourth Test from January 6 is will certainly miss the tough Mitchell Johnson. The Aussie pacer is out with an injury and his run-ins with Kohli made headlines in Melbourne. Johnson's replacement Mitchell Starc is also a fiercely competitive man and won't shy away from a verbal battle. (Dhoni's absence will hurt India: Warner)
Kohli wears his attitude on his sleeves. "Aussies called me spoilt brat. They hate me and I love it, helps me play better," the Delhi batsman - voted as the biggest sports jerk in an Aussie media poll - had said. As long as the Aussies don't trick him into making mistakes, Kohli's mannerism are acceptable. He remains India's best batsman and a lot will depend on how Kohli leads the young side. (Happy to learn from mistakes: Kohli)
The fighters then, stand tall. The weapons are drawn and the jingoistic crowds are ready for a clash of gladiatorial proportions. Backing out is not an option as an iconic cricket venue - for five days - will once again transform itself into a battle zone.