This chapter of Indian cricket started back in the Australian summer of 2014-15 when MS Dhoni, the permanent India captain, had to sit out for the first Test match of the series due to injury and Virat Kohli was named stand-in captain.
In that Test match, India were left to chase 364 on the final day. Kohli decided to go for the win even when there was an option for a draw. India fell short by 48 runs. Kohli scored 141. You might think, what is the point? You go for the chase and you lose, so better draw it, right? No. It is about the culture and aggressive, fearless thinking.
India came so close to victory. Had there been some support for the skipper, it would have been easier to get over the line.
During that series, which India lost, Dhoni announced that he was retiring from Test cricket. Kohli was named full-time captain and led India from the MCG Test, by which India had slipped to seventh place in the ICC Test rankings. Before he took over from Dhoni, Kohli had this to say during a statement: “I strongly want to see the Indian team dominate for at least five or six years.”
Certainly, that promise has been kept.
Later in 2015, the Indian cricket team beat Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka after 22 years. Ater losing the first Test in Galle, it was some comeback by the team to defeat that Sri Lankan side on their home soil. was just a trailer, just a start.
In the course of time, one of the most notable things on Kohli’s resume is India’s dominance at home. Since 2016, the team has looked almost impossible to conquer in their own backyard. In Kohli’s tenure as captain, India have won 23 out 30 Tests at home. This includes 10 straight series wins at home.
When this Indian team plays at home, it is as if you know the result before the first ball is bowled, or rather, before the coin is flipped. The conditions are in their favour in such a way that it makes the opposition look far inferior. Even when the conditions are neutral or even seamer-friendly, such as in the 2019 home season, opposition teams did not stand a chance.
Another issue is that touring teams don’t have a world-class spin pair. India boast of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, who are Test spinners of the highest order and know red-ball cricket in and out. In 30 Test matches, Ashwin has taken 182 wickets at an average of 21.03 and Jadeja 120 wickets in 26 matches at an average of just above 22.
Also, touring seamers have not mastered the art of pace bowling in the subcontinent whereas India’s pace bowlers have together taken 183 wickets in these 30 Tests. Clearly the Indian team is ahead of everyone else in their home conditions in every aspect of the game.
THE PACE BRIGADE
Under Kohli, Indian pacers have taken 557 wickets in 65 Tests at a mind-boggling average of 26.29. This is the biggest reason for India’s dominance away from home. When the Indian team travels overseas, the hosts fear their pace and hesitate before considering green tops. Earlier, India had one or two quality fast bowlers at a time but currently, thanks to the backing of Kohli, they have the most balanced pace attack in world cricket.
India’s quicks truly have the ability to make things happen. Bowlers like Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma have done much better under Kohli than they had done under Dhoni, which says plenty.
BEASTS AWAY FROM HOME
Irrespective of India’s performance at home, Kohli always had the ambitions of making India the best touring team. Since 2015, India have had the most number of away wins in Test matches. Kohli has series wins in Sri Lanka, the West Indies (twice) and Australia, and while the ICC has yet to decide the fate of the recent series in England due to the cancellation of the fifth Test, the fact that India led 2-1 tells you the chances of a series win on English soil.
The way this Indian cricket team plays to dominate in foreign conditions is worth watching. It looks as if Kohli has found the formula of how to win Test matches overseas. The thing which has stood out is that even when India have lost, they have not allowed the opposition to steam-roll them, barring the once-in-a-lifetime incident of 36 all out at Adelaide.
The 2018 tours to South Africa and England indicate enough that had Kohli found more batting support, the results could have been different. The only series where India were totally outplayed was the tour of New Zealand in early 2020, which in my view was an aberration because everything just happened in a hurry, which allowed the Kiwis to dominate.
AMONG THE FINEST
Currently, Kohli sits at fourth on the all-time most successful Test captains list with 38 victories. Steve Waugh (41), Ricky Ponting (48) and Graeme Smith (53) are ahead of him. With the ‘pace’ and the rate at which this Indian team is winning Test matches, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kohli finishes at the top of the table.
Let us have a look at the statement he gave back in 2015. When Kohli said that he wanted to see India dominate for at least five years, there were not just words out of the blue. That was a promise, which has been kept. Since 2017, India have won the ICC Test mace five years in a row. This shows the sheer rule of Indian cricket on the Test rankings.
I wish the Indian team many more Test victories, especially overseas. I hope they win in South Africa later this winter, and I am sure they will also get their hands on the World Test Championship trophy this time.