India and its new obsession to win away from home

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We’re not going to stop here. The job is not finished: Kohli

An Indian victory was all but inevitable on the fifth day of the Boxing Day test.

Despite intermittent rain and the first session being washed out, it took just 27 deliveries for the away side to emerge victorious, retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and lead the series 2-1.

The iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground is now India’s favourite Australian venue with India having now secured three test match wins and the first since 1981.

For Team India and for Virat Kohli though, the mission is far from over. “We’re not going to stop here,” Kohli vowed. “The job is not done. It’s not finished at all.”

In the past, Indian sides have faltered when pressing for the kill. This Kohli led Indian side at least so far in this series have matched their words with action.

India rose to being ranked number one in test cricket with near invincibility in home conditions on the back of 10 consecutive home series wins.

But historically India have been poor travellers away from home enduring series after series of losses and many of them heavily one sided. In 70 years of touring Australia, the Indian team has never managed to win a test series losing in all 11 previous occasions.

Conditions away from home were often alien. Pitches were bouncier and seamed more. Batting techniques, which relied more on hand-eye coordination than footwork were brutally exposed. India’s pacers were stable at best and spinners unable to get the purchase they thrive on in home conditions and so largely ineffective.

For many Indian sides in the past, getting through the series rather than winning it was the realistic objective. And thus, the side was defeated even before a single ball was bowled.

Past Indian teams to Australia were seen as meek, subservient and even polite. Not this Indian team. Not Virat Kohli. They want create a legacy for themselves and no longer be seen as kings at home and paupers away. This Indian side mean business and look to live up to their million dollar reputation. On the field, we see the passion—and a side that is content from being away from home.

For India to reverse the historical truth of being poor travellers, the attitude and belief in players needed a wholesale change.

“If you have to, or want to win a series away from home, it has to be an obsession,” Kohli said.

Once it becomes an obsession to win, the player finds a way to make things work. Adjusting lengths when bowling, assessing conditions early, curbing down a natural inclination to attack when batting—are some of the many changes required when overseas.

But this obsession to win away was not always the case. In 201 test matches to date, India have only won 29 in Australia, England, South Africa, New Zealand or the West Indies. If you exclude the four victories in the West Indies in the last 12 years when their powers have diminished, India has only 25 victories. That puts this series lead in perspective and also highlights its importance.

India’s fast bowlers, traditionally a liability, have been supreme over the course of the year in foreign conditions. They end 2018 with 179 wickets; they’ve never taken more wickets in a calendar year.

India found a way to defeat Australia at their own game and decisively so. Cricviz reveals that India’s fast bowlers were able to get more swing (0.61 degrees v 0.51) and seam (0.68 degrees v 0.56) in this test match.

They also bowled in better areas (almost 42% of deliveries on good length v less than 35% for Australia) and also attacked the stumps more often than their Australian counterparts.

The average speeds of the Indian bowlers were also impressive with Bumrah regularly clocking over 145km/h and neck and neck with Australia.

Critically their plans against Australia’s failing top order batsmen was extremely well executed and the home side’s batting woes were exposed in clinical fashion.

“It is a combination of a lot of work, identifying what it requires to be bowling fast over a period of time. The strength-conditioning coach Shankar Basu and physio have played a major role in making these fast bowlers,” says Bharat Arun, India’s bowling coach.

India’s also are a lot fitter and this is inspired by their fearless skipper Virat Kohli, who has transformed himself over the last few years. Kohli follows a strict fitness and dietary regime that has helped him generate more explosive power, concentrate for longer periods and lead his team in setting the benchmark for fitness standards.

This has certainly rubbed off on his bowlers as well—who are now able to generate sustained pressure on their opponents for longer periods.

Coach Ravi Shastri warned ahead of the series that his side will “take no prisoners” and won’t be taking a backward step.

India’s quest to win a Test series in Australia is not dissimilar to the home country’s quest to win in India; a country famously described by Steve Waugh as the “final frontier.”

The hard work India has put in this year cannot be doubted. But wins in Johannesburg and Nottingham were offset by series losses in South Africa and England and the team failed at critical junctures.

“We always believed that this (win) is very possible because of the talent we have in the side and the mindset that we have been carrying for the last twelve months regardless of what has been said, regardless of the mistakes we have made. Our mindset never shifted once,” said a resolute Kohli.

Going into the New Year’s test in Sydney, Virat’s side will believe they now have their best chance to win a test series in Australia.

“Nothing is going to distract us from winning that last Test.”

It’s that obsession to win away from home that fuels this Indian side forward.


The writer is the founder of Infinity Cricket, having run cricket events since 2011 with a vision of ‘connecting people through cricket.’ He was also a Commonwealth Games Ambassador in 2018

 

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