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Former national coach Darren Lehmann has forecast a summer of misery for India if the visitors cannot draw first blood in what shapes as the only Test Virat Kohli can lead with sword and shield.
The man who presided over Australia's last success in the Border-Gavaskar series, Lehmann is expecting a turbo-charged first Test under lights in Adelaide that will take on extra importance given Kohli's personal situation.
Virat Kohli, whose confrontation with Tim Paine was a flashpoint in the 2018/19 series, is returning home after the first Test on paternity leave.Credit:AAP
Lehmann says India must win under lights in Adelaide if they are to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy or risk being run over by the hosts, who have the benefit of finishing the series at their Gabba fortress, where they have not lost since 1988.
"If they don't win the first Test and he goes I think Australia will dominate the series. That's what I feel because he's such a deep loss to them," Lehmann said. "If they don't win that first one with Kohli, then he goes, I can't see it getting any easier for them."
Kohli's loss will be felt on two fronts. One of the world's premier batsmen, Kohli relishes Australian conditions, averaging 55 on this country's bouncier decks, and also thrives on the hot reception he receives from the local crowds. Teammates also feed off their leader's combativeness and thirst for the contest.
Kohli's confrontation with Australia skipper Tim Paine in Perth was a flashpoint during the 2018/19 series.
"The way he instructs his players and the way he goes about it in the field, they'll lose that real energy and in your face mentality," Lehmann said. "If Australia can get on top early they'll get the trophy back – and quite comfortably."
As vice-captain, the more subdued Ajinkya Rahane is expected to take over from Kohli, though this has not been confirmed by the BCCI. Rahane deputised for Kohli in the fourth Test against Australia in 2017, leading India to victory in the deciding rubber after Kohli injured his shoulder.
How India respond with a change of leadership mid-series is set to be a major talking point.
"It will be interesting to see how they play it when he goes. He's a lot tamer, I don't know who they will have to do that role," Lehmann said. "I would say it's going to be a fiery first Test match. It's going to be a fascinating series."
Former Test star Michael Hussey said Kohli's aggression provided "great theatre" for fans.
"You can tell he loves being in the fight in the middle. Sometimes it goes a bit too far but most of the time it's pretty good banter," Hussey said. "It's a shame for the series we won't see it for three of the Test matches. The first one could be very feisty."
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