India captain Virat Kohli on Monday called winning a series in Australia his proudest ever moment, capping a 12-month journey for his team of hard graft, fixing mistakes and comradeship.
Their 2-1 triumph achieved what no other Indian side had managed to do since they started touring to Australia in 1947-’48, with the foundations for success laid not in the first Test at Adelaide, but on their tour of South Africa last year.
It was there, and on the subsequent tour of England, where Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri identified the attacking brand of cricket that they wanted to play, all in preparation for Australia. Shastri even went to the extent of saying the journey towards this series win just didn’t start in Australia, but even further back.
“Totally agree with Ravi Bhai, our journey started in South Africa,” Kohli said. “It’s not only the preparation for this tour, we figured out the things that were required to win in Australia, which was going to be the toughest.
“We just focussed on rectifying our mistakes. We didn’t work on feeling good about things we did well. The fact that we laid out on the table the things to improve and no one took offence to anything, and everyone accepted that we have made a lot of mistakes in certain areas...and in crunch situations we were better than Australia in those areas. That’s the progress of a team.”
India lost 2-1 in Tests to South Africa in January last year, and were then outplayed in England 4-1.
That journey has led to India boasting one of the most fearsome bowling attacks in the world, with the breakthroughs of speedster Jasprit Bumrah and spinner Kuldeep Yadav.
And while accolades will inevitably fall on Kohli, he has consistently stressed through the series that it can never be about one person.
“It was a team effort through and through. And that’s what we strive for,” Kohli said. Single spells, and single innings don’t win you games of cricket, especially Tests. If you ask me, [Hanuma] Vihari playing 70 balls (66) of the new ball at the MCG is as big as anyone getting a 100 or a 70-80. That’s how we recognise contribution, not just something that goes up on a honours board.”
India were already the number one team in the world before the series began, with the win only shoring up their formidable reputation.
Kohli is passionate about Test cricket and said he wanted youngsters to look at what the team had achieved, and they way they have done it, for inspiration to keep the red-ball game in focus as limited-overs formats gain ever more traction.
“I see this series as a stepping stone for this team to inspire the next lot of Test cricketers. To be passionate for Test cricket firstly,” he said.
“When Indian cricket respects Test cricket we know the fans are going to come in and watch Test cricket.
“We definitely want to build on this and always promote the message of Test cricket being the most important and the most valued format of the game which it rightfully is.”
Kohli also insisted that, despite earlier series defeats, that his team was always competitive. While it is now common knowledge that the Indian captain hasn’t lost a Test where he has won the toss, he said India played tough cricket even when the coin flip didn’t go in his favour.
“One thing I want to emphasise is that in the last one year, whenever we lost the toss, if you see our performances closely in those matches, you’ll understand the kind of cricket we have played. When we won toss, the other team didn’t even come close to us. I am not saying this to sound arrogant; this is the truth about the belief we have in our team, that we can defeat anyone, anywhere,” Kohli said.
The Pujara-Bumrah factor
While India’s batting in Australia was a class above, anchored by Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara, it was the consistency of the bowling that made the difference, with no Australian batsman scoring a century.
“The way the bowlers have dictated and dominated, not here but also in England and South Africa, it’s something I haven’t seen before,” said Kohli.
“Hats off to them, the way they’ve prepared, their fitness levels, and their mindset.”
So important was the win that Kohli, arguably the best batsman in the world in all three formats, placed it above being part of the Indian team that won the 2011 World Cup.
“It’s obviously a very proud moment. More so because for the last 12 months we understand what we have gone through as a team, we understand the kind of cricket we have been able to play,” he said.
“The fact that the reward has come in the most historic series for Indian cricket is the cherry on top of the cake.”