Under Virat Kohli now, India have won eight consecutive Test series – thrown in among them a one-off Test against Bangladesh – in the last 23 months. The sequence started in Sri Lanka in August 2015, in Kohli’s first full overseas tour as captain; it was in the fitness of things that he moved within one campaign of matching former Australian captain Ricky Ponting’s record of leading his side to nine successive winning series in the same country.
By virtue of their commanding innings win in the second Test at the SSC ground on Sunday (August 8), India have taken a decisive 2-0 lead in the three-match series. Should the trend continue and India complete victory in the third Test starting in Pallekele on August 12, it will mark India’s first sweep abroad in a series involving more than two Tests, another feather in the Kohli cap as he seeks to emulate the tall deeds of Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
This is India’s third overseas victory since September 2015, when they came from 0-1 down to edge out Sri Lanka 2-1 and register their first win here since 1993. This time last year, they won a four-match showdown in the Caribbean 2-0. The away tours have come exactly a year apart in the last two years, but the frequency – as well as the degree of difficulty – will be enhanced over the next couple of years.
“Honestly speaking, we are not looking at Test matches or Test cricket now as home and away anymore. We are just looking at Test matches as Test matches and we want to win anywhere that we play. If we can believe enough in our abilities, then we are not really bothered about where we are playing.”
India are due to travel to South Africa early next year for an as yet undecided number of Tests, then England for five matches next summer, and then travel to Australia in the winter, outings that will test the skills, the character, the mettle and the fortitude of the team currently atop the Test pile. For all their recent successes on foreign shores, it is undeniable that there continues to be a massive difference in India’s records at home and overseas. It is precisely this anomaly that Kohli’s lads will seek to erase going forward.
With a clean sweep looming here, the obvious question to Kohli was whether India could use that achievement as the springboard to greater success outside the subcontinent. Kohli offered a novel but thought-provoking reply which might sound fanciful but actually makes a lot of sense if you break it down brick by brick – take away the home and away perception, just treat each game as an independent entity.
No, Kohli’s not advocating Tests at neutral venues. Instead, he is talking about taking the venue out of the equation so that there is no additional pressure of having to earn the spurs overseas. The away record bugbear is something that has historically annoyed India’s cricketers because several generations believe they have been hard done by, and not without basis. When India have lost abroad, they have been pilloried as tigers only at home; when teams from outside the subcontinent have come and lost in India, they have been painted as victims of designer dustbowls. It is this lack of balance in thinking that various legends of the past have had issues with.
“It’s obviously nice to win this series again. We won this last time also, in 2015,” agreed Kohli, then went on, “Yes, we do have that chance (of a 3-0 whitewash), but honestly speaking, we are not looking at Test matches or Test cricket now as home and away anymore. We are just looking at Test matches as Test matches and we want to win anywhere that we play. If we can believe enough in our abilities, then we are not really bothered about where we are playing.
“That kind of energy I can sense in the team, and the team believes that as well. We have to only look to win Test matches – however it may be, on whatever pitch or in whatever conditions. We are creating a habit of winning that I think can be carried on in future as well. From the numbers point of view and from stats point of view, these things look great. But for us as a team, it’s all about achieving those small little goals every time we go out to play a Test match. For us, this is priority.”
India are fortunate that they have unearthed a bunch of young men who still swear by Test cricket despite the pressures, pulls and charms of the instant variety. Fears about the future of Test cricket in the country after the departure of the golden generation have thankfully remained unfounded, and with this youngish core group set to break even younger players into the set-up, every effort will be made to drive home the primacy of Test cricket to a generation that has been weaned on 20-over cricket. Towards that end, it was no surprise to hear Kohli throw his weight behind the five-day format.
“Test cricket is the most important thing for us. And everyone plays with a lot of passion. If you see, in the last nine Test matches, six times we’ve got 600 runs. That shows the hunger of the batsmen. In the dressing-room, we feel really proud of each others’ efforts, that we’re really putting in those consistent, convincing performances, and winning Test matches more often than getting the other results.”
“Test cricket is the most important thing for us. And everyone plays with a lot of passion,” he said. “If you see, in the last nine Test matches, six times we’ve got 600 runs. That shows the hunger of the batsmen. In the dressing-room, we feel really proud of each others’ efforts, that we’re really putting in those consistent, convincing performances, and winning Test matches more often than getting the other results. We really feel good as a team that we’re able to win consistently right now, but we realise that it’s very important to keep carrying on the same way as well.”
A majority of this central group – Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kohli himself – were around in December 2013 when India embarked on their first foreign assignment since Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement from Test cricket, a month earlier. India acquitted themselves with credit in South Africa, losing a two-match series 0-1 and then going down by a similar scoreline in New Zealand a couple of months later. They managed a win at Lord’s in 2014, and challenged Australia Down Under, only losing a four-Test series 0-2.
However, victories in these places have been rare as hen’s teeth. Now that India have a top-notch fast bowling unit, several all-round options, and a greater experience and understanding of playing in South Africa, England and Australia, they can seriously think about winning a greater percentage of matches. Never mind if they don’t care if it is Durban or Delhi, Christchurch or Chennai, Brisbane or Bangalore.