NEW DELHI: Picturing India without Virat Kohli is like imagining The Beatles without John Lennon, but with the talismanic skipper due to say a quick “Hello, Goodbye” in Australia this is reality the tourists must face for much of the four-Test series.
Kohli will return home after the Adelaide opener to attend the birth of his first child, dealing a massive blow to his team-mates as well as to broadcasters, who will struggle to find anyone capable of replacing the biggest drawcard in cricket.
Australians are unlikely to be overly disappointed with his absence, however. “I’ve said this before, he is probably the best player I’ve ever seen in my life for so many reasons,” Australia coach Justin Langer said recently.
“It’s not only his batting but his energy, his passion for the game, the way he fields. I cannot believe the energy he displays in everything he does.”
At number four, the versatile Kohli charts the course of the innings. The 32-year-old was the third-highest scorer when India registered their maiden Test series victory in Australia two seasons ago.
His deputy, Ajinkya Rahane, will have to move up a place in order to fill the void or slot all-rounder Hanuma Vihari in there, with Shubman Gill or KL Rahul at six to bolster the batting.
Without Kohli, the team will also have to adapt to a vastly different brand of leadership under Rahane.
In the field, Kohli is one-man theatre. Be it from the slip or the deep, he is an omnipresent ball of energy, exhorting greater efforts from his team-mates and letting them know all about their mistakes.
Rahane’s approach appears more democratic. He coaxed India to victory against Australia in a 2017 Dharamsala Test which Kohli missed with a shoulder injury and was also in charge when India handed Afghanistan a thrashing inside two days in their 2018 test debut in Bengaluru.
Rahane should not even try to emulate Kohli’s leadership style, says former test spinner Harbhajan Singh.
“Looking at a personality like Virat, Rahane might think he has to adopt some of it to beat Australia, but I don’t think that’s necessary,” Harbhajan told a digital channel last month. “All Rahane needs to do is be himself and make sure he gets the best out of his team.”