In 1519 AD, during the Spanish conquest of Mexico, Hernán Cortés, the Spanish commander, needed total commitment to victory. So he came up with a novel idea – he smashed holes in the hulls of the ships and abandoned them on the beach. He told his men that the ships weren’t seaworthy but in reality, he had a different goal in mind. From then on, his troops had no option but to go for the jugular. With a huge dollop of luck and some smart tactics, the move worked for him and that’s how the once mighty Aztec Empire crumbled in the 16th century.

It was a bold strategy and has been repeated by many generals over the centuries. Some might even call it desperate but it has it’s merit. It clears the mind and allows everyone to focus on one thing and one thing alone: victory. Virat Kohli seems to be pursuing a similar strategy since the humiliating loss against Australia at Pune.

While he hasn’t gone to the extent of scuttling any ships, his words have pretty much conveyed the same message. Each appearance before the media has been an exercise of intent for the India skipper — the message has been put out loud and clear: Team India won’t take a backward step.

Kohli’s strategy: hit hard or die trying

In a way, it almost seems like the defeat pushed India to a point of no return. The skipper, in turn, has responded in the only way he knows. Kohli will push for victory – not a draw but a win. That’s how he has always been. His team-mates know that as well but just wanting a win is not going to make it happen, you have to prepare physically and mentally to be in the best position to do so. And sometimes you have to snatch it away from the opposition too.

On the eve of the match against Australia, Kohli spoke about Pune but only because he was asked. It was clear that he was still hurting. But his answers also showed that he has made up his mind – he is going to hit the Aussies hard or die trying.

Image credit: IANS

“No hesitation from here on till the end of the series. When you lose because of lack of intent, that hurts. We have tried out best of address that,” said Kohli with a smile.

The words weren’t very different from the ones that he used immediately after the Pune Test.

“I can assure you we are going to come back with more intent in the next Test and put Australia under pressure from the first ball,” Kohli had then said.

In the few days, he has had since the match ended – he went off for a trek in the Sahyadaris near Pune and then got down to business. Kohli might have been climbing up a mountain but his mind would have still been on the Aussies and that alone.

Kohli has been known to do this – he regularly looks to challenge himself, setting targets that many may think are impossible to achieve and then he goes out an gets them. But while he knows himself, can his team respond in quite the same way?

Indeed, there is nothing wrong with Kohli’s demand. The Pune loss demanded a response, not just a “we’ll do better in the next game” but a much more forceful ”we’ll bounce back with a win” and the skipper has done that.

Can his team follow Kohli’s example?

Kohli’s strength has always been knowing when to go in for the kill, when to fight and when to back off. Right now, he knows that if India show any sign of weakness, the Aussies will move in for the kill. So he seems to be replying instinctively as well.

“We have to focus on our skills rather than look at what Australia is saying or what Australia is preparing. I know these mind games,” he said while talking about what Australia will try and do and how India will look to counter.

He not only knows these mind games, he has also been drawing the winning hand for a while. Kohli One-Day International record in a chase has been incredible. And this is the Test match version of a chase, India are behind and a comeback needs to be plotted. Just perfect.

The mention of Kohli usually triggers a spectrum of deeply conditioned responses – he’s manic, he’s driven, he’s in-your-face, he’s unafraid, he is a winner. But few will ever doubt his intent – he has always played to win even when a win seems out of reach. The shoulders never droop, the thought of defeat never crosses his mind.

But an assurance – like the one given by Kohli — attaches itself to a kind of immovable certainty and that idea will forever remain alien in sport. It is dangerous territory. But they certainly won’t go back to the dressing room wondering, “what if...”

For now, however, you can be sure that India will attack the Aussies with everything they’ve got after the first ball is bowled in Bangalore. But you can also be sure that the Aussies will fight back with everything they’ve got. Sport is never a one-way street and the intangible is always the opposition.

Kohli’s worked up a storm with his words and while the intent is great, it eventually needs to translate into performance on the field too. Let’s hope India have figured out that part of the puzzle too. The time for talk is done, it’s time to play ball now.