“When my back is against the wall, there is one way to go for me... forward”
While speaking about his journey in 2014 from England to Australia, Virat Kohli told Dinesh Karthik in the recent Sky Sports interview that he will do everything in his power to fight when the chips are down.
It was a very personal response to a very personal question... but it would not be an exaggeration to say if the Test team he has built in his time as the captain had to be described in one line, this would be it.
When their backs are against the wall, this Indian team finds a way to go forward.
So it happened again on Monday, 16 August 2021. The venue, Lord’s. The script, another remarkable Indian turnaround. The heroes, almost everyone in the team but especially the fast bowlers... both with the bat and ball. The result, another famous Indian Test win away from home.
When Virat Kohli led his team out in South Africa at the start of 2018, it signalled the start of a crucial phase in Indian cricket. Having already established themselves as one of the best Test sides in the world, thanks to a stellar home record (that really should be celebrated more), India were going to tour South Africa, England and Australia in the space of little more than a year. Can this Indian team deliver away from home in an era where teams don’t travel all that well anymore?
There was a series defeat in South Africa (1-2), a series defeat in England (1-4)... Kohli’s team came under criticism, not because these were drubbings. They were anything but. More so because it felt like India had great chances on both the tours to emerge victorious but appeared to shoot themselves in the foot. Of those eight Test matches, only one could be termed one-sided. There were two famous, if solitary, wins.
Then came the tour of Australia, and it started on a different note. India had struggled to begin the series well on these big away tours but for the first time ever on a tour of Australia, the team had won the opening Test to take a 1-0 lead. The historic series win followed, India had triumphed Down Under. But by all accounts, that overseas leg for India, as the subsequent series defeat in New Zealand would show, was a mixed bag.
Once the sporting world was unpaused, India embarked on another tour of Australia. They would have their captain just for the first match... it was known. But what a match it turned out to be. On one morning of madness in Adelaide, a winning position was overturned completely, the team was blown away for a number that will likely never be forgotten by Indian cricket fans. That 36 in Adelaide, ended with Mohammed Shami walking away injured, his tour of Australia ended early. He would go on to feature heavily with in the Lord’s win, with the bat and ball..
From Adelaide, in the space of eight months, India have come up with Test performances for the ages in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and now Lord’s... three wins and a draw that felt like one. The defeat against New Zealand in the ICC World Test Championship Final slotted in somewhere in between, and it would sting Kohli that the title of the best Test team in the world is not officially India’s. But there is very little to suggest that his side aren’t the one to beat in world cricket at the moment in the five-day format.
From Adelaide to Brisbane via Melbourne and Sydney: India found heroes every step of the way
India winning Test matches away from home had simply not been the norm for fans of a generation that started following the cricket, say after the glory days of early 1980s. From Leeds 1986 to Leeds 2002, there was a period of 33 Test matches in between that India either drew or lost in South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia... (some might not like the S, E, N, A metric in Test cricket but for an Asian team to win outside Asia, minus the weakening era of West Indies, is the biggest challenge there is... and bigger the challenge, sweeter the feeling of success.)
And when things started to turn for the better at the turn of the century, there were wins to remember on overseas tours. Leeds 2002. Adelaide 2003. Johannesburg 2006. Nottingham 2007. Perth 2008. Hamilton 2009.
Only *two of those ultimately resulted in a series win, though.
Things would not change much for the next few series. An odd memorable win hidden inside a series defeat. Until recently, when Kohli led India to the first series win in Australia and then Ajinkya Rahane took over a side in deep trouble to make it an unprecedented back-to-back triumphs Down Under.
Given how they were struggling at the start of days four and five, against a side that boasts of a terrific home record, India still somehow managed to turn things around at the Home of Cricket, earning their position of advantage by a sheer display of determination to succeed.
As we sit here, reflecting on the Lord’s win, it is worth noting the series is still not done. India have been here before, with a 1-0 lead in England. This time, it could have well been 2-0 had rain not interfered on the final day at Trent Bridge in the series opener.
But after ten days of weather-and-light interrupted cricket, India’s lead in the series feels almost matter of fact. It is not a plucky away performance, or a position of superiority that feels fleeting. It feels like the rightful place to be.
These epic away wins are not solitary annual occurrences anymore... rather, they are arriving in closely-bunched clusters. It was, therefore, all the more impressive to see Kohli stress that things were not yet over. Look forward. Lord’s is not the place to stop.
“It’s a happy day for us, but having said that, we have three more matches to go. Our aim is five Test matches, we are not going to sit on our laurels and just take it easy. If at all we are going to be more intense and get more precise with what we do in the next three games,” Kohli said at the end of the Lord’s win.
And so this team moves on to Leeds, after adding another glorious chapter to their book of famous Test wins from improbable situations... knowing full well that the expectations are of a series victory. Winning, after all, is a habit and this Indian Test team is developing a mighty good one at that.
A bowlers’ day out at Lord’s: How Shami, Bumrah, Siraj and Ishant scripted an epic Indian win
Second Test, Day 5 as it happened: Siraj picks 4-for as Kohli and Co win by 151 runs
Lord’s Test Day 5 video highlights: Looking back at a remarkable day of cricket
Correction: The article originally said only one of those famous away wins in 2000s resulted in a series win. There were, in fact, two. England 2007 and New Zealand 2009. The article has been updated.