One of the many unique aspects of Test cricket is the celebration of a draw. When a match that has been played over five days, about six hours on each day, one would expect both teams to be frustrated and ask for a change in rules that allows for a game without result.
But in Test cricket, and indeed in first class cricket in general, the draw tends to be the result of one team holding off the other in the face of imminent defeat. Fighting out a draw is thus seen as an honourable result. As honourable as winning the Test.
Not for Virat Kohli.
In September 2018, India were chasing an improbable target of 464. They started the final day on two runs for three wickets and one would expect them to try and block out the England bowlers and eat up as much time as possible. The Indian batsman however showed no such intent. What happened instead was that KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant ended up smashing centuries and posting a sixth innings stand of 204.
“Not many people will realise it but they look at it as if we might not have been interested or might not have had motivation, but that wasn’t the case, clearly, because they were going for the win and these guys just batted really well. All credit to them that they played the game with the right attitude, and they respected the game totally,” said Kohli after the match.
The attitude of not wanting to play out a draw received criticism at the time largely due to the fact that the series ended 4-1 in England’s favour. But it started showing signs of paying off in later Test matches and in Australia, fans got to see the full effects of a team deciding not to consider any result apart from a win as an option.
Numbers and stats aren’t exactly necessary for those that have followed Test cricket over the past two years to admit that India have developed one of the best bowling attacks in the world. Rarely has a Test gone by when they haven’t taken 20 wickets. The fact that India have lost only once in the 30 instances that they have batted first only underlines the contribution of the bowlers.
Kohli did not inherit this bowling attack. In fact, India were anything but the dominant side they are now in most countries in the world when he took over the captaincy from MS Dhoni. The likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami were yet to establish themselves while Ishant Sharma was in the wilderness. Jasprit Bumrah was yet to be discovered. While Ravichandran Ashwin was a guaranteed started, Ravindra Jadeja was yet to become the match winner with ball and bat he is now.
It is one thing for players to make it to the top and quite another for them to stay there. While the attitude and character of the players is an important factor, man management also decides whether they whither away at the top or continue their good work.
This is where Ravi Shastri comes in.
The Indian coach’s bombastic claims and social media’s tendency to mention his love for a peg or two at every turn has made him the butt of quite a few jokes in these last two years. Kohli and the rest of the team are clearly at ease with him. If the results were not going India’s way, this easy relationship between coach and the team would have been valid subject for criticism but in Test cricket, that has hardly been the case for India over the two years.
Shastri’s staff has overlooked the process of integrating Bumrah and reintegrating Ishant Sharma into the Test setup. They have also given Mohammed Shami enough time to deal with his fitness issues and India are reaping the dividends now.
Man management is probably one of the most important aspects of coaching an elite team filled with players who are icons in their own right and Shastri and co. seems to have hit the nail on its head as far as that is concerned.
India right now seem to be in the middle of a perfect crescendo. Even when they have to replace some of their most important players, there are backup players who seem to be just raring to go at all times. Good examples of these are Umesh Yadav in their recent win over South Africa in Pune and Kuldeep Yadav against Australia at the SCG in January. They seem to be invincible at home.
They next face Bangladesh in a two-Test series at home but the real test would come when they tour New Zealand. Starting in February 2020, it would be the first time that Kohli would be leading the team against the Kiwis in their backyard in Test cricket. New Zealand like India are a hard side to beat at home.
Every tour to one of the SENA countries is seen as a seminal moment for the Indian team of that particular era. Kohli’s men performed admirably in South Africa and England and did something that no other Indian team could in Australia. This may hence be one of those rare instances when fans have a positive outcome in mind when waiting for a tour to one of these countries.