“A test series win in Australia means more to me than the 2011 World cup.” That one line shows how much a test series win away from the sub-continent meant to Virat Kohli. This Indian team managed to achieve what the previous teams of 71 years could not achieve – win a test series in Australia. Add to that, the fact that this is the first ever test series win in Australia by a sub- continent team, and it gives a sense of the monumental achievement that this Indian team has managed over the past month.
There have been many great teams that have travelled down under – The team of 2003 under Sourav Ganguly, headlined by a player of the series performance by Rahul Dravid being the most memorable in recent times. The fact that despite the greats of the game have visited the country, and could not manage to win the series, reflects the magnitude of difficulty that any visiting team faces in Australia. Starting from the day they land, the pressure from the media, constant jeering from the crowds, the mind games from the opposition camp, all play a huge part even before a single ball has been bowled.
So while the great Indian teams of the past came up short, what has changed now that the team managed to do the seemingly impossible? Sure, the Australian batting was not as strong due to the absence of a couple of stalwarts in David Warner and Steve Smith. But, ask yourself this – did you think a win was nailed on before the series? Of course not! There was a lot of hard yards to cover, before the series was sealed.
One major improvement this team has shown over the previous teams is the ability of the bowling unit to constantly knock over the opposition, no matter the conditions. Test matches are rarely won by a team which does not manage to take twenty wickets. During any given spell of bowling, there never a shred of disbelief that a batsman cannot be dismissed. There are wicket-takers all around the bowling unit, and there’s no respite for the opposition batting.
Secondly, the mindset of the team has changed. The belief that no match is out of the hands till the last wicket falls or the last run is scored, no matter the situation of the game, is one that makes a champion team which can compete under any conditions. As Virat Kohli rightly said in the post match press conference, despite losing series in South Africa and England earlier in the year, not for a moment did this team look like they were out of their depths.
Last but not the least, the fitness levels of the current squad is among the topmost in the world. There was never a feeling in during this test series, that this team is not as fit as the opposition. The emphasis laid out by Virat Kohli on the minimum fitness requirements for a player to even be considered for selection, has obviously played a huge part in raising the fitness levels of the team. The willingness shown by the captain himself, Virat, by leading the way in this regard, has egged on the rest of the team to follow the lead.
Batting was considered a major concern before the series, and rightly so, considering the abysmal performance of the batting unit during the overseas tours earlier in the year. Virat Kohli, again had been the lone beacon of light in both these tours. The issue was further when the latest batting sensation from Mumbai, Prithvi Shaw was ruled out of the series. Murali Vijay could not buy a run, and KL Rahul could not survive even if his life depended on it. Add to that a world class Aussie bowling line-up consisting of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon, there was every chance of the team being dismissed cheaply. Surprisingly, amidst all the struggles at the top, the batting order held it’s own. The fortitude shown by the middle order, starting with Cheteshwar Pujara’s marathons at no.3 was invaluable. Pujara provided a fulcrum around which the rest of the batting order could revolve, while killing the opposition spirit bit by bit with every unbreakable forward defence. The major improvement this time around, after the disappointments from earlier in the year, was the ability of the batting order to score big in the first innings, independent of Virat scoring. There were contributions from everywhere in the batting order, including the arrival of Mayank Agarwal on the biggest stage.
Yes, it is premature to compare Virat Kohli’s achievements as a captain to his predecessors’. But what is undeniable is the stamp that Virat has so far managed to forge on this team. On-field captaincy aside, there are many more things that dictate how successful a captain can be. Team
selection policies, the dressing room atmosphere, the culture of the team, his man-management skills are all key factors that eventually yield results on the field. Certainly, winning one test series does not make him the best captain overnight. As the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day. But, surely the competitive edge that the team has gained under Virat gives us confidence that he is the right person to lead Indian cricket into the next decade.
There will be times to dissect the performance and debate the performance of individuals and the team. For the moment, let us enjoy a historic series win – something that does not come around everyday.