Australia skipper Tim Paine said Monday he is relishing his sometimes heated battle with animated Indian counterpart Virat Kohli, and promised “intense, hard” cricket in the crunch Boxing Day Test at Melbourne.
The pair had some testy exchanges in the second Test at Perth, which at one point needed the umpire to intervene.
And Kohli offered only a frosty handshake at the end of the game, which Australia won to level the four-Test series 1-1, refusing to meet Paine’s eye in a move blasted by some as disrespectful.
But Paine said he appreciated that Kohli never liked to lose.
“A lot was made of my battle with Virat in the second Test, and for the past few years when I haven’t been playing international cricket, he was one guy I loved watching,” he said in a column for Melbourne’s Herald Sun.
“Now to be out in the middle going head-to-head with him in a Test series is something I’m really relishing.”
Paine said he was not annoyed “in the slightest” by Kohli looking straight past him at the handshake.
“Virat is someone who is prepared to wear his heart on his sleeve and like all professional athletes, hates to lose,” he said.
“I like the way Virat plays. I don’t know him personally but I’ve always admired — not only his obvious skill as a player — but the passion and aggression he plays with. People like to see that and he gets fans through the gates.”
Kohli’s antics in Perth, where he also failed to acknowledge the crowd’s applause after he was controversially given out in the first innings for 123, brought a stunning rebuke from veteran Bollywood star Naseeruddin Shah.
He described him as “not only the world’s best batsman but also the world’s worst behaved player”, with the mass-circulation Hindustan Times saying it articulated what many Indian cricket fans had been thinking.
His behaviour when the Melbourne Test begins on Wednesday will closely watched, but he has the backing of coach Ravi Shastri who on Sunday called Kohli “an absolute gentleman”.
Australian coach Justin Langer said Monday his biggest selection headache was whether to persist with middle-order batsman Peter Handscomb or recall all-rounder Mitch Marsh to ease the pressure on pace spearheads Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.
“In a perfectly balanced side you’ll have someone who can bowl some overs so Mitch becomes an attractive commodity on a wicket probably unlike Adelaide and Perth,” he said, where the surface offered fast bowlers plenty of opportunities.
On the other hand, Handscomb would be an asset if the visitors opt for two spinners.
India are sweating on the fitness of key spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who was sidelined with an abdominal strain for the Perth Test.
Left-arm off-spinning all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja is also carrying a niggle but is expected to be fit, as is experienced batsman Rohit Sharma, who also missed the second Test.
India’s main concern is the form of openers KL Rahul and Murali Vijay, who have struggled for runs, putting an extra burden on Kohli and number three Cheteshwar Pujara.
Shastri made clear on Sunday more was expected from them in Melbourne.
“It’s obvious and that responsibility and accountability has to be taken by the top order,” he said.
“They’ve got the experience, they’ve got the exposure over these last few years to get out there and deliver.”