Melbourne: Not the least bit annoyed with Virat Kohli's aggression both on and off the field, Australian cricket coach Darren Lehmann said the home side is liking the charged up atmosphere created by the newly-appointed Indian captain.
Kohli will lead the side in the fourth and final in Sydney starting January 6 after Mahendra Singh Dhoni announced a shock retirement from Test cricket after the drawn third Test here yesterday. India have conceded an unassailable 2-0 lead to Australia in the four-match rubber.
Virat Kohli exchanging words with Mitchell Johnson (L). Pic/ Getty Images
When asked if the Aussies had elicited a similar response from Kohli in Melbourne as the Indians got from Mitchell Johnson in Brisbane after sledging him, the Lehmann teased, "Oh we haven't even started with Virat Kohli yet." After the laughter died down, he added in a serious tone, "It has been an interesting series. As long as it stays on the field though, we don't mind. In fact we are happy that both sides are going to play hard cricket. It is pleasing from an Australian point of view because that is how we want to play. But we also want to leave it on the field and not bring it outside."
"What transpired was between Kohli and Mitchell Johnson. As long as there are 90 overs bowled in a day, and the players stay focussed on the game, these things can go on. The series is being played in a tough, competitive spirit and I am fine with it," he added. Lehmann then brushed off any criticism of his team's late declaration on day five of the third Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The hosts had declared their innings closed at 318/9 at lunch and set India a target of 384 runs in 70 overs for victory. The visitors finished at 174/6 with Dhoni holding fort at stumps. "We won the series, didn't we? That was pretty important on the day for us. But were we really defensive? Or were India defensive with their tactics? They had five men on the fence, instead of letting us score and declare quickly and getting on with chasing the game," said the coach.
"India didn't even take the new ball. We would have definitely taken the new ball. They had a lot of fielders on the fence and we could only score 1-2 runs per over. That's not what we would have done in that situation. That's not how we play. But it is not my team," Lehmann added.
Australia declared at the stroke of lunch, bringing about a sudden rush in the batting approach of Shaun Marsh and he ended up getting run-out on 99 runs. Lehmann confirmed that India's batting strength was one of the factors in the decision to declare. "He played beautifully on day five and even better on day four. India bowled very well and kept us under check. They were reversing the ball a lot and set us back a little bit. Marsh batted well with Ryan Harris and help us set up the game," he said.
"They are a very good side. They would have chased whatever target we gave them and Steve Smith was very confident that they would go for what we gave them. And I agreed with him. Look, they changed their batting order to do that yesterday and played some aggressive cricket. But in the end, we drove the game because they haven't taken 20 wickets in any match in the series so far," he added.
Talking about his team's young skipper, the coach was full of praise for Steve Smith. "Steve chatted with me the same (about the declaration), like Michael Clarke would have done. I am a firm believer in that captain should make the decision. In the end we needed 20-30 more overs to get the win. But we lost the game in the first innings when we dropped all those catches and Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane then went on to get big hundreds. But the captain made the right decision."
"Look, we had to wait a bit in the morning session because of rain. On a pitch like this which doesn't have a lot of wear and tear for bowlers on the fifth day, you need reverse swing. If we had declared and the ball would have got wet because of rain, it would have affected the reverse swing. We definitely didn't want to bowl with a wet ball. That was also a consideration," Lehmann said.
"He has been excellent. It was tough taking over from someone like Clarke from our point of view. But he has reacted very well as a young leader. He has made runs and dealt with situations in a tough time," he added.
While the last Test in Sydney will usher in a new era for India, Australia will be playing at the ground where Phillip Hughes fell to a bouncer. It will mark a return of emotion to their dressing room and as yet the coach was not sure how to deal with it.
"I don't really know how they will react. I guess we will find out when we get there this week. The good thing is that the boys are involved in a contest at the moment, so they should be fine I think. In Adelaide they were very quiet. So a couple days off now should help and then we will try to get through this situation when we come to it. The best for us is to get on with cricket and do the best we can on the field," Lehmann signed off.