Virat Kohli tries to make amends after Shikhar Dhawan spat

  • Sai Prasad Mohapatra, Hindustan Times, Melbourne
  • Updated: Dec 25, 2014 08:10 IST

The Indian team's intense, three-and-half-hour training session on Wednesday was a precursor to the return of a semblance of bonhomie in the camp. There were two main protagonists around which the entire unrest saga unfolded and it took the same two to send out the message that things are close to stable again. Virat Kohli made a very public effort to reach out to Shikhar Dhawan in the full glare of the media. The duo gave the impression that what happened in Brisbane was a one-off.

Before India could hit the nets, at the usual warm-up football session, an animated Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni were engaged in a one-on-one talk that lasted over 10 minutes. Their tenor and demeanour made it obvious it wasn't just cricket they were discussing. Then, at the nets, Virat made extra effort to talk to Shikhar while the latter was padding up. Sandwiched between Shikhar and an already padded up Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat knelt, to have a heart-to-heart conversation with his Delhi mate. Later, team director Ravi Shastri joined a meeting between Dhoni and Kohli. Perhaps, that was just what was required going into the Melbourne Test where India can fancy one more chance at redemption.

India seem keen to renew motivation and find their rhythm before the third Test on Friday. The signs are promising: Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled a full session, Suresh Raina got a longish batting stint ahead of Rohit Sharma; Rahane appeared to get his batting issues sorted with a throw down session, and, in general, the bowlers too looked fresh and sharp.

Trailing 0-2, India have a bigger clean up to do than previously imagined. They have to sort the aggressive tenor, which was meant to be external but has turned internal after the unrest episode. Kohli on Wednesday morning looked to be the initiator of that process. Tagged to be the next captain with hardly anyone in his rear-view, it is time Kohli evolved in demeanour and conduct from a player to a leader - a leader who can inspire confidence, settle frayed nerves, manage egos and chug along. He has to lead a pack with equals and a mix of juniors. He must gear up in anticipation of a vacuum in leadership arising once the senior Dhoni goes out of the team eventually.

His aggression has won him many fans in Australia - past cricketers, Indian diaspora crowd and his team in general - but his misdirected internal aggression, against his own teammates can equally damage the fabric of the team for which he needs to carefully construct a culture of togetherness.

His history of run-ins - spat with Gautam Gambhir; the booing incident at the Wankhede during the IPL; middle finger to the crowd in Australia during the last tour - doesn't reflect too well on a future leader. Captaincy, like friendship, too runs on trust. If the leader-to-be appears to be suspicious of his teammates' motives then that morphs into a major trust deficit. Kohli can ill-afford that.

In the immediate history of Indian captaincy - be it Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble or Dhoni - none of them engaged in an ugly spat with a teammate. On the eve of the Brisbane Test, Dhoni had waxed eloquent about Kohli's leadership.

"I think he has been fantastic not only as a batsman but also as a leader. In the ODIs against Sri Lanka at home, he was fantastic. He is an aggressive character and slightly different to what I am but at the end of the day, you don't want all individuals to captain the same way... I feel what he did throughout the Test match was really great," Dhoni said about his deputy's captaincy in the Adelaide Test.

Before India can even fantasise about making a comeback in this series, it's up to Shastri and coach Duncan Fletcher to work overtime to make sure things go back to the where they were. And for the team, it was heartening to see Kohli has initiated that process.

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