Virat Kohli has an obsessive personality. He is obsessed about being the fittest athlete he can be. He is obsessed about scoring runs against every team, in every condition, in every match. He is obsessed about winning every time he is on the field. And India’s maiden Test series win in Australia is, to a great extent, a result of that obsession.
On paper, India have just four wins in their away Test cycle that started with the tour of South Africa in the beginning of 2018. India lost the series in South Africa 2-1, lost in England 4-1 and won in Australia 2-1. That’s four wins and seven defeats. Rain robbed India of an opportunity to win the Sydney Test and make their record a more palatable 5-7. But India’s historic Test series win in Australia – the first ever by an Asian team – is much more than the 2-1 scoreline suggests.
After Australia levelled the series 1-1 in Perth, questions were raised about the tactical nous of the management. They did not go with a spinner in the second Test, even as Australia’s Nathan Lyon picked up eight wickets and proved to be the deciding factor.
But unlike the tour of England where they refused to learn from their mistakes and ended up selecting an injured Ravi Ashwin in the series-deciding Southampton Test, Kohli got the team combination right in the Melbourne and Sydney Tests and everything fell into place after that.
Admittedly, the toss went in India’s favour in Melbourne and Sydney but given Kohli’s rotten luck when it comes to tosses – losing all of them in England – he deserved some luck with the flip of the coin. But you still have to score runs and take wickets, which is what India did to cap a difficult away tour cycle on a winning note.
India’s bowling, Cheteshwar Pujara’s exemplary batting and an average Australian batting line-up played their part in the final result. But look beyond the stats, scorelines and quotes, the biggest result from the win Down Under and their overall game over the last season is this – you would pay to watch this Indian team.
Excellent reward for old-fashioned test cricket batting for @cheteshwar1 and a break out year for @Jaspritbumrah93. Thought Virat Kohli was much more relaxed than I have ever seen and that bodes well for his captaincy.— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) January 7, 2019
The rise of Jasprit Bumrah as the premier all-format quick in the world, coupled with the menace of Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma, with timely support from the likes of Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav and an intermittently fit Ashwin have given Team India a bite that is to be feared in Test pastures.
Other teams like South Africa, England and New Zealand too have a potent bowling attack and are led by a dynamic captain. But there is mettle about India’s Test cricket. Their captain is boisterous. And he makes the right kind of noise, placing the Border-Gavaskar win above the World Cup triumph. Their best batsman – Pujara – has shown that you can succeed if just put your head down and follow your own path. Their replacement wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant does acrobatic flips (he was a gymnast) while taking a record number of catches and outscoring Kohli. Their pacers Bumrah and Shami sustained their hostility – whenever they played – across 12 Tests. And most importantly, they didn’t go overboard while celebrating wins.
Kohli puts a premium on intent, which resulted in some players like KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane losing their radar while bating. Pujara also got caught in its wake but dug deep to go back to his default mode and start scoring again. But the message from Kohli remained the same – batsmen have to remain positive, fielders must throw themselves around, fast bowlers have to run in hard all day and bowl with specific plans. Sometimes you get instances like the Oval Test against England when India went for victory chasing 464 on the final day when a draw was a distinct possibility and lost by 118 runs to lose the series 4-1 instead of 3-1. That defeat showed how deeply Kohli has ingrained the desire for victory in the mind of the team.
It’s not like this Indian team is beyond criticism. They still make massive selection blunders and the injury management of key players like Ashwin and Hardik Pandya leaves a lot to be desired. But whether they win or lose, you want to watch them play. And that is the biggest achievement of Kohli the captain.
Singing, dancing and waving massive flags, India‘s cricket fans were in party mode as their team achieved a milestone – their first-ever Test series win in Australia.
The two nations are fierce cricketing rivals and India, the number one Test side, came to Australia looking to create history after seven decades of trying.
The self-described 12th man of the team, the vocal Indian fans were a constant presence at the four Tests, eager to witness what seemed like an impossible task in the past become a reality.
“I am very happy now that the time has come that after 71 years ‘Team India’ is going to win this Test trophy,” renowned India fan Sudhir Chaudhary told AFP in Hindi via a translator outside the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Chaudhary – whose upper body and face is painted with the Indian tricolours of saffron, white and green and the name of his patron and favourite player, cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar – embodies the passion of the supporters.
Cricket is hugely popular in India and getting on top of Australia on home soil has been a key goal after 11 previous attempts.
Chaudhary, 37, has followed the Indian cricket team for almost two decades, and made sure he was a visible presence at the SCG as he waved a national flag and blew a conch.
Other faithful fans also travelled from far and wide to Australia to cheer on their star cricketers.
Long periods of rain at the Tests in Sydney and Melbourne did not deter them, with their singing and drumming bringing energy to the dismal sessions.
“It’s a bit of an emotional rollercoaster,” British-based Rakesh Patel, the founder of the supporters group Bharat Army, told AFP.
“After two very tough series (against South Africa and England), we’re finally going to win a series away from home.
“Some of these guys here have travelled from all over the world to be here, to see India beat Australia for the first time.”
With India sewing up the series 2-1 after drawing the rain-sodden final Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground and securing victories in Adelaide and Melbourne, the fans were planning a big bash.
“Our plan is to celebrate with the team. We are the 12th man of ‘Team India’, so we’ll be celebrating with them, and then the party will go on,” Rajul Sharma, who heads up the Australian branch of Bharat Army, told AFP.
“It’s hard to say when it’s going to stop… So yeah Sydney, watch out for Indian fans!”
India are in the driver’s seat in the fourth and final Test against Australia in Sydney, having reduced the hosts to 236/6 on Saturday.
India posted 622-7 and saw their bowlers turn up the heat on Australia’s batsmen who were staring down the barrel before rain brought an early close to play on Day Three.
Wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav was the most successful Indian bowler, picking up three wickets while Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammed Shami also chipped in.
India’s discipline in the bowling department was exemplary while captain Virat Kohli kept the pressure up with innovative field placings. However, it was India’s fielding that stood out with Ajinkya Rahane pulling off two sensational catches – at short mid wicket off Marnus Labuschagne and at first slip off Shaun Marsh – while Kuldeep himself took a fine return catch off Travis Head.
The No1 Test team’s ground fielding was impressive as well and Kuldeep believes India are the best fielding side in the world.
“We have got best fielding coach in Sridhar sir and we are really working on catching in slips, silly point and outfield as well,” Kuldeep said. “I feel we are the best team in the world when it comes to fielding. It’s really important for every player to give 15-20 minutes in fielding and hopefully we will improve day by day.”
On the bowling front, Kuldeep has had to wait for his opportunities behind leading slow bowlers Ravi Ashwin and Jadeja. However, the wrist spinner says waiting in the wings and bowling alongside the best spinners in the world is part of a good learning curve.
Kuldeep said: “When you know you have Ashwin and Jadeja in the squad and you are the third [spinner], there is a lot to get motivated. They are the ones who keep pushing me in the nets — ‘you have to bowl this way and in certain areas’. It is important to learn from them. They have played enough cricket and I am still learning.”