Before this tour, India had not lost five Test series to West Indies since 2002. The Windies’ results, not just against India, reflected the nation’s steady decline in cricket’s longest format in the last decade or more.
Yet it took India three away tours to finally register two wins in one series. While this West Indies team may have been the most inexperienced they have ever fielded, cricket has this merciless way of chronicling history --- it’s either black or white, there are no grey areas. From now on, the India team captained by Virat Kohli will be the first ever to win two Tests in West Indies.
It’s a statement that was waiting to be made. West Indies were on the slide for some time now but no India team before this could exploit it in their backyard. Like this series, India had won the first Test of the tour of 2011 too but for several forced and unforced factors they couldn’t make it 2-0 in the next Test at Bridgetown. In St Lucia, Kohli’s boys ticked a box by making the right calls despite a day being washed off.
On the face of it, India’s fast bowlers were responsible for this win but it also couldn’t have been achieved without the one-day approach adopted by India’s batsmen. Not very often have India scored at 4.52 for close to 50 overs in Test cricket. Strike rates of KL Rahul, Wriddhiman Saha and Ravindra Jadeja were 100 or more. Both Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma had strike rates of nearly 70 while R Ashwin, India’s designated No 6, wasn’t sent to bat until six batsmen had been dismissed. All these point towards a newfound urge to win at any cost.
“Winning is the most important thing for any team. Obviously playing good cricket is too but they say as a batsman you like to score runs in every game you play. So as a team you want to win every match you play. That has to be the intent. And when you execute that it gives you a lot of confidence as a team,” said Kohli after the match.
What couldn’t be achieved in Jamaica was done in St Lucia by sticking to the all-round basics required to force a result on a fifth day. Batsmen scored at brisk pace not caring about career averages. All five bowlers chipped in with at least one wicket and the ground fielding was given a much-needed facelift. A well laid out plan was executed by the entire team where everyone looked apprised of his roles thoroughly.
“The fielders have their job to do in terms of getting those 30-40% chances and making them into clean catches. Plus the bowlers know what to do. More than bowling the other team out they should remember the execution of today because we will be in situations on day five when we need to bowl out teams again. They are improving every game and are getting the idea of how to pick wickets in difficult situations which is always pleasing for a team,” said Kohli.
With Kohli as new captain, India have won seven Tests, drawn four and lost one. In the process, they have strung together a record of one drawn Test in Bangladesh, followed by three back-to-back series victories against Sri Lanka (away), South Africa (home) and this tour. Since the turn of the century only thrice before have they achieved such consistency.
But even then India couldn’t win two consecutive away tours. This series win thus puts to rest a lot of doubt about Indian teams stuttering abroad even against mediocre teams in the past. It also holds out hope for the future. Kohli attributed their success to the often used cliché of ‘expressing themselves’ but he also explained what it actually means to a cricketer.
“We understand that as a team, it’s not about going all out in every session. That’s not how a team expresses. Expressing means that you have to be smart in every session that we play. Expressing means showing intent but still defending for two hours because the team needs it. That’s expressing your talent as well. I think we have expressed ourselves very nicely according to the situation of the game,” said Kohli after delivering almost an epilogue on how this new India team is thinking, planning and executing every series apart from implementing quickly what they have been learning.
“We know exactly the right kind of balance which game of the series we are playing and how we have to play it. Obviously, you want to start of the series with a very positive intent so you can be one up. But then you need to play calculative cricket. You can’t be stupid. You can be aggressive, but you have to be calculative at the same time. We have to play smart cricket. If it wasn’t for the fifth day in Jamaica, we probably wouldn’t have done what we did in the first session. We know that as a team, and we improved that in this game. Because it is the third game, we need to finish things off now. We can’t leave things 1-0 till the last game. We needed to be smart. We wanted to play with their patience and results came for us.”