THE INDIANS: ATTITUDE AND LATITUDE
Virat Kohli and team play confidently. Bharat Sundaresan asks: will it help them win away?
Under Virat Kohli, India has adopted a more assertive approach to its cricket. But as Bharat Sundaresan asks, will their confidence be validated by a big Test series victory away from home?
On September 5, Tim Paine was quoted in a newspaper on how his players were working towards becoming “better people” and making their countrymen proud by being “Australia’s team”. Coincidentally on the same day, a few hours later, Indian coach Ravi Shastri would insist in a press conference at London that his team had played better away from home than any of their predecessors in the “last 15 years”.
The two statements, unrelated as they might have been, that emerged from the two camps were however significant. They vividly showcased the respective mindsets and endeavours of the two teams. In many ways, they also were indicative of the role-reversal that seems to have taken place over the last 10 months or so. Here was an Australian captain reeking of modesty and asking his players to follow suit. And there was a former Indian captain talking up his team, with all the braggadocio and bravura so stereotypical of Aussie teams of the past, despite them having lost yet another important series away from home.
And it will be this unprecedented clash of inverted cultures that will light up the upcoming Australian summer. Virat Kohli will lead an Indian team that prides itself on being “in-your-face”, on being driven by “intent” on and off the field, and one that is vocally “desperate” to win overseas. Ironically, it’ll come at a time when Australian cricket is undergoing an attitudinal metamorphosis, which is based around playing down, even if only slightly, those very attributes that defined them till the ball-tampering scandal, and now define their visitors who arrive in November. It promises to be a battle between “Australia’s team” and a very “Australian” Indian team.
It’s an Aussie team that will be obviously weakened by the absence of Steve Smith and David Warner, who four years ago were scoring centuries for fun against this very same Indian attack. The lack of batting might in the Aussie camp will give India hope of a maiden series triumph. But Kohli & Co have gone into their last two big away tours under the same premise – that the home team are at their weakest ever and are hence ripe for the taking. South Africa and England too had their own batting worries, and to an extent they were exposed by India’s newfound fast-bowling prowess. But the Indian batsmen didn’t back their bowlers enough and both series were lost with a Test to spare, burying talks of this being India’s “best chance” in both cases.
So the Indians will know that
their opposition’s perceived weakness could well be a drawback for them, considering the expectations it breeds among their supporters and their own players. India has been ranked
No.1 in Tests for a while now. But with no overseas series wins – save ones in the Caribbean and Sri Lanka – of note in their grasp, they are presently akin to a top-ranked tennis player who’s faltered at the Grand Slams, as far as their detractors are concerned anyway.
This is also one series that this bunch under Kohli and Shastri wouldn’t want to lose. Not after the “brain fades” and abundance of controversy during Australia’s tour to India in early 2017. The Indian camp themselves suffered a few brain fades in terms of selection on the tour to
England – be it going in with two spinners in seamer-friendly conditions at Lord’s, or playing an under-par spinner on a turning track at Southampton. And they paid for them dearly.
The selectors seem to have made amends in a way by picking a squad for the home series against West Indies which seems to be on board with the team’s bombast about wanting to win away. Perennial overseas under-performer Shikhar Dhawan has finally been given the boot, with the likes of teenager Prithvi Shaw and prolific domestic run-getter Mayank Agarwal being roped in with an eye on the tougher challenge later this year. There has also been talk of the BCCI asking for bouncier tracks at Rajkot and Hyderabad, where the two home
Tests are being played.
The last tour to Australia in 2014-15 – where Kohli took over for the first Test as a stand-in for MS Dhoni, and at Sydney as the full-time appointee – was seen as a watershed outing for this present generation of Indian cricketers. And the incredible run-chase, which eventually ended up in vain, at the Adelaide Oval was seen as the defining moment for Indian cricket’s hopes abroad. Kohli in fact held on to the image of him in the middle with the Adelaide Oval scoreboard in the background as his Twitter profile picture for nearly a year.
But if Adelaide is what made this team, as Shastri and Kohli love to say, Adelaide could well break it this time around. It’s where the Indians start their campaign this time around again. A loss in the opening Test against this Aussie line-up could well break the back of this bold unit, especially in the cauldron that is Australia. It will also subsequently embolden the Aussies, even if they are expected to doff their traditional
INDIA HAS BEEN RANKED NO.1 IN TESTS FOR A WHILE NOW. BUT WITH NO OVERSEAS SERIES WINS, THEY ARE PRESENTLY AKIN TO A TOP-RANKED TENNIS PLAYER WHO’S FALTERED AT THE GRAND SLAMS.
“win-at-all-costs” mentality, to rub it in.
Four years ago, we saw a feisty series when both teams kept talking about and defining the “line” of gamesmanship and then kept crossing it regardless. And the Indians will come hard at their arch-nemeses. The hard wickets Down Under will also assist the Indian batsmen, who like their counterparts prefer bounce on the track but struggle against sideways movement, in providing better support to their well-conditioned bowling attack. India’s burgeoning pace battery, which matched England’s veteran fast-bowling attack and outpaced them consistently, has come of age beyond imagination and will inevitably test Australia’s developing batting line-up to the hilt.
Indian broadcasters have developed a tendency of late to err on the side of hyperbole. And the promos to the Australian tour have voiceovers claiming that “in Australia when one stump gets uprooted, it feels like all three have been knocked out” and that “in Australia, the gentleman’s game becomes slightly ungentlemanly”. At a time,
Australian cricket is trying hard to get rid of this very reputation, it’ll be interesting to see whether Kohli & Co can finally do the same with their own reputation of being “keen but unsuccessful travellers”.
Virat Kohli doesn’t hold back from showing how he feels on the field – and it’s flowed over to his Indian team.
KL Rahul and the rest of India’s batting couldn’t match Kohli’s consistency in England (below). Will they improve down under?
Ishant Sharma will lead a deep pace attack ready to do the job in Aussie conditions.
Adelaide 2014: a run chase that ultimately fell short, but the Indians stood up in a defining moment for the team.