The International Cricket Council announced yesterday that the Indian cricket team under Virat Kohli would end this year as the No:1 Test playing side in the world, a few minutes after Kohli’s team wrapped up an almost impossible victory in the last two sessions of the Chennai test considered to be ending in a tame draw until the lunch break yesterday. In fact, it is these impossible turnarounds at the most unexpected times, that have made this team in transition under Kohli’s captaincy a very special one despite many underlying concerns. And a 4-0 victory against England, coming after the series wins against New Zealand, South Africa, West Indies and Srilanka make it very special and a record of 18 consecutive Tests without losses with 14 victories, is a crowning glory to an already brilliant year for Kohli who amassed runs at will and broke many a batting record while also scoring three Test double hundreds in one year.
Unlike in 2010-11 when we became the No:1 Test playing nation in the world for the first time under Dhoni, we don’t have the fab four or five (Tendulkar, Sehwag, Dravid, VVS and Sourav) playing now apart from Dhoni himself. Also there is no Zaheer Khan or Harbhajan Singh in the bowling department. In fact, apart from Kohli himself, Pujara and to some extent Vijay, the top order and middle order is in a flux with some gaping holes in some positions. The best bet in batting, Rahane is woefully out of form. Bowling, though has been on the up with Ashwin and Jadeja performing consistently well, however, for the seamers it’s a toss up between Shami, Umesh, Ishant and Bhuvanesh kumar, thanks to injuries or indifferent performances at times. Saha as wicket keeper is emerging, but again down due to injury and the replacement wicket keeper, Parthiv Patel seems to be more like a goal keeper, deflecting the balls than catching them. Although there were some brilliant efforts on the field like the stupendous catch by Jadeja on the last day, many dropped catches and misfields raise some serious concerns. Also there had been a few tactical errors by captain himself in some sessions in some of the matches.
Yet, with all these deficiencies, we have outperformed the other teams and achieved the impossible. One argument could be that the other teams – be it England, Australia or SA themselves are much below par than what they were a few years back, and that most of these wins have come at home and not in England, New Zealand or Australia. But then what I look for in a captain is what he does to the team and more importantly the individuals in the team and how he makes a turnaround – like my all time favourite captains, Ranatunga, Imran and Sourav did to theirs, regardless of wins / losses or where they played. Or for that matter, what Faf du Plessis is doing to SA now in the absence of A B de Villiers. From that point of view, look at how players like K L Rahul, Jayant Yadav or Karun Nair have emerged and evolved under captain Kohli. Or for that matter the resurgence in bowling – especially that of Shami, Umesh, and more impressively Ishant and Ashwin who were not performing like how they are now, a couple of years back. And most importantly, the belief in this team that they can win no matter what – like the number of times they did, be it in Sri Lanka or against SA, NZ and now against England – in terms of how they either turned a possible loss or an inevitable draw to a victory. It is this transformation in the mindset “to go for the kill” – which we were sadly lacking in our Test side until a couple of years back, is what I hail the most about Kohli’s leadership that gives me the hope that the team under him would go a long way in establishing themselves as world beaters.
That captain Kohli himself is setting an example for that, leading from the front in turning the matches upside down by his own performance and instilling fear in the minds of opposition is a great sign and step towards that.