Win the toss, bat for almost two days to get a 500 plus score so that you get 15 overs to bowl on the second day, get a wicket in that session, come back the next day to wrap up the innings with the pace attack in such a way that you enforce a follow-on and are again left with 15 odd overs where an opener in form is dismissed and then again return the next day to unleash your spinners on the opponents and spin them out of the game. Elaborate roadmap to a win right? It’s also perhaps the ideal template any team would want to ape home and away. And for the first time in many years, India have achieved that overseas.
Barring the last hour where Virat Kohli probably thought too much about snipping the West Indies tail, India were meticulous in their pursuit of the perfect win. Batsmen batted long hours and the bowlers got enough rest to be able to withstand two days of bowling. In the second innings, spinners bowled 44 out of 78 overs, meaning pacers were not stretched.
In all the years of touring overseas, India have rarely come out with such purpose in the first Test. The general mindset is to get a decent understanding of the opposition, press for a draw and then see how it goes in the rest of the matches. Looks like Kohli has had enough of that approach. He also has had enough of the cliché ‘we are looking to improve every game’ and wants results. He just got that by drilling it into the team’s psyche.
On Saturday, Umesh Yadav was speaking how the team was looking at their score as 350 and not 566. Such thought process helps a team to stay alert and never drop guard. And for most part of their innings victory, India did just that. Going forward into this Test series and also beyond that, this is the methodology India are looking to subscribe to.
“It’s all about creating good habits. We know that any team can easily go easy on the opposition when you have 560-570 runs. But what’s important is to still have the mindset of defending 350 even when you have 560. Because when you have a low score on the board, then that helps you repeat those things again and you don’t have to do anything different to suddenly defend a small total,” said Kohli after India’s win.
“It’s very easy to give runs away, then you don’t realise that you make bad habits along the way. You suddenly find out eventually when there’s a very important moment in the game. You want to be a consistent side, we need to set ourselves goals and look to execute that rather than looking at the opposition which I think this team is willing to do, which for me is a very pleasing thing as a captain,” he said.
The most effective approach of winning a series stems from the ability to dissociate the team from the last victory. India have won this Test by an innings but Kohli is not ready to bask in the glory as greater achievement beckons them. “Winning is contagious. As we know, if we learn to win Test matches, then we will learn how to win Tests everywhere. We will learn how to play in different situations and we will know exactly what to do when a certain situation is going a certain way,” said Kohli. That’s a departure from the mindset of many previous Indian Test captains, especially MS Dhoni.
“We are not connecting the previous game to the next one. That’s how you perform consistently. If we have a chance to win 4-0, then why not? We don’t need to complacent. If we end up getting a 2-0 lead, it’s not that we are playing for a draw in the next two Tests,” he said.
What is most satisfying about this India win is that despite the standout performances of Kohli, Ashwin, Yadav and Mohammed Shami, there are other contributions which mattered equally. If it not had been for Cheteshwar Pujara’s vigil after two quick wickets, Kohli couldn’t have played so freely. Ishant Sharma’s lone wicket in the Test is Kraigg Brathwaite but it couldn’t have come at a better time since the opener looked in ominous form in the first innings. From Ajinkya Rahane’s fabulous catch of Darren Bravo to Amit Mishra’s tireless perseverance, this win was not just about the obvious things.
Much has been written on how India could have won series they had drawn, or won with a better margin in a series they won 1-0. Kohli promises there will be no let up now. “We are not at a stage now where we need to come and improve. We should be ready enough in international cricket to start dominating Test matches and win those crucial situations and sessions. That’s how we become a better team. If you think we are going to keep learning every series, learning every game, we will never get that hunger and that mindset to win games from difficult situations,” he said.
There is no reason to gaga over this result just yet. Leading 1-0 in a four-match Test series, India still have a long way to go to stamp their authority. The opponents may be mediocre and the pitches could be flat but a team still needs to do at least some things right to win a Test. And they are more often mental than the actual action. This India team, under Kohli’s captaincy and Anil Kumble’s guidance has just begun their journey. But if they stay true to their winning mentality, a lot of records could be set straight in the years to come.