‘The last six or eight months have been a revelation’ – Virat Kohli

Intensity, body language and learning to take tosses out of the equation have been key to India’s roaring start to 2020. This was Virat Kohli’s assessment as he drew satisfaction from two hard-fought wins that helped India take the Australia series 2-1 after a ten-wicket pounding in Mumbai.

On Sunday, India showed a great mix of intent and caution in their chase after restricting Australia to 286. India were a frontline batsman short after Shikhar Dhawan didn’t open the batting to nurse his left shoulder bruise sustained while fielding in the fifth over of the match, but Kohli and Rohit Sharma toyed with the bowling, alternating between taking the lead role and anchor in a 137-run second-wicket stand that took the game away from Australia. Sharma brought up his century, Kohli missed his by 11 runs and Shreyas Iyer blitzed the fast bowlers, particularly Mitchell Starc, before Manish Pandey hit the winning runs. All of this, Kohli thought amounted to something special.

“Our partnership was a little different from what we’ve done in the past,” Kohli said. “We were a batsman short, and already we had to take a call about who bats where. I think experienced guys have to step up in games like these. We knew that the plan Australia would have is to get one of us out early so that they could put us under pressure, because Shikhar was in no condition of striking the ball as he should. From that point of view, it was one of the most calculated partnerships we’ve had.

“We’ve had many flamboyant partnerships as well, where both of us are just going from each end but today I had to play second fiddle. Rohit was settled in, he knew the pace of the wicket. In between, I gained momentum, so he started playing the anchor role. Then later, Shreyas took pressure off me. So it’s satisfying that we had three good partnerships back-to-back, and it just put things in our favour. We knew Australia is going to come hard at us with the ball. They put enough pressure, but we were up to the mark, we played in the most professional manner that we could.”

Kohli was particularly delighted at the series win because it came against an “even better side to the one that came last year and won.” He was most pleased about the character they showed in bouncing back after receiving a pounding in Mumbai. He then elaborated on how the team has consciously worked towards developing a ruthless mindset by taking tosses out of the equation, and sustaining their aggressive body language when pushed to a corner.

This, he said, was discussed soon after their World Cup semi-final exit against New Zealand. “You can’t always look for a situations that go your way at the toss,” he started. “If we like chasing as a team, it doesn’t mean we press the panic button if we lose the toss. We’ve to stay composed enough to put in strong performances, which we’ve done.

“We’ve literally taken the toss out of context, and we’re as prepared as possible to do something the opposition asks us to do. That’s been the difference. Even if we lose the toss, we have the belief that we can play expressive cricket to get results our way. The last six or eight months have been a revelation and the younger guys stepping up is a very good sign for Indian cricket.”

Kohli admitted to being complacent last year, when India conceded the ODI series to Australia despite being 2-0 up. It was something they were desperate to shake off, especially against a full-strength Australia side this time.

“Last year after 2-0 up, we thought we’re definitely going to win one of the three at home, but they showed us that they understand these conditions very well now, having played here a lot in the IPL and so many tours over the years,” Kohli said. “So today, although they had a stronger side than last time, we thought if we play good enough, we can beat this team.

“The only thing we needed to be wary of was our body language and intent because that’s Australia’s strongest point. All the teams in the world are skilled but these guys play with the intent of making things happen every over you play against them. So you can’t take your foot off the pedal at all, that’s what we’ve done in the last two games.

“The partnerships that I mentioned today, even the singles were with intent. We didn’t want to give them a feeling of we don’t know what’s going on. There was surety, body language, intent and once we get a strong partnership in, we’re going to take the game away. That is the message [we sent out].”

While India’s batting clicked, the bowling somewhat flew under the radar. The spinners were relentless, as was Mohammed Shami with his yorkers. It was put to Kohli if he thought Jasprit Bumrah returning with just one wicket in the series was a failure. While he started as if he had dismiss the question, he threw light on what Bumrah himself felt.

“With Jasprit, you can always focus on the guys who get wickets but how things are looked at from the outside is different to how things are perceived from the inside,” he started. “We understand the kind of impact he has made in the last two games. He was probably the most disappointed and hurt after the first game because he didn’t get any wicket and didn’t put them under pressure.

“So he took it upon himself to do the job for the team, contain runs and in turn, the other guys were rewarded because he created the pressure. I think his death bowling in the last two games were outstanding and the areas he hit with the new ball today and in the last game was very special. He has contributed massively to these wins. It might not reflect in the scorebooks but his contributions have been very crucial.”