The sign of a champion team lies in its ability to challenge itself when it is well aware that even at full throttle, the opposition is unlikely to run it close. India were always going to hammer Sri Lanka 3-0 in this Test series, but it is the manner in which they did it which pleased Virat Kohli the most.
“In the last game (in Colombo), we enforced the follow-on but we did not execute the things that we wanted to, to the best of our abilities,” he said on Monday (August 14), after leading India to their first 3-0 whitewash overseas. “Plus, the opposition played well. This time, we took it as an opportunity. We spoke about it in the morning, treat this as day five of an away tour, probably a series-defining Test match where we’ll have to get an opposition out within 60-70 overs. So take that attitude on the field and try to wrap up things and understand how that can be done.
“We wouldn’t have situations all the time where we’ll get 600, 500 and then we’ll have a chance to bat again and set a large target. Sometimes, we will have to enforce the follow-on and it could be series-defining,” Kohli said of India’s approach on the third day, which Sri Lanka began at 19 for 1, needing 333 more to avoid an innings defeat. “It could be something special for the team. So try making those habits from here on, let’s start being a bit more uncomfortable as a team, embrace pressure situations, look to put in that extra effort for the team. Also, understanding that we don’t play Test matches till December now, so… The guys were willing to give it all, and we took this as an opportunity to learn as a group together. We keep finding different situations and scenarios where we can challenge ourselves as a team first, before we look at the opposition. Today was another opportunity for us to challenge ourselves and I’m glad the way the guys stood up for it.”
The guys did stand up for it, bowling Sri Lanka out in 74.3 overs with the wickets being shared around. This series was a complete contrast to the snarl and tumble of the 2-1 home series win against Australia, but Kohli said the joy at the end of it was just the same as in end-March.
“If you differentiate your level of motivation and intensity according to oppositions, then you’re judging oppositions differently,” he reasoned. “The reason we’ve been successful so far is because we treat a cricket game like a cricket game, which is executing the abilities that we can execute to the best of our potential, not looking at who we are playing against. That is the attitude that has kept people hungry. You know you won’t see reckless cricket regardless of who we are playing. We want to consolidate every situation, we want to make sure that we’re correcting things along the journey and that’s the mindset we want to take forward also. You can’t raise your intensity or lower your intensity according to your oppositions because that I feel is disrespecting the sport. We have great pride in the intensity with which we play the game. We consider it a privilege that we are able to play Test cricket for the country. Our mindset hasn’t changed one bit till now.”
Contrary to popular opinion, Kohli disagreed that the scoreline was a true reflection of how strong the Indian team was. “I feel that we played really good cricket. We won all three tosses. Looking at the nature of the pitches, that was a massive factor as well. I believe in the second Test, we would have faced more pressure if we had not won the toss because of the way the wicket played from the second day onwards. All those things you have to take into account and look at the larger picture. From that point of view, I think we’ve played really good cricket to win 3-0. We put constant pressure on the opposition to make sure we win more sessions during a Test match and that has led us to win the series with a clean sweep. It makes us really proud as a team.
“The depth in the squad has been our strength in the last couple of years. That’s why we’ve been able to get the results that we have because we have played different players on different occasions but everyone has been fit and ready to come and do the job. Mostly we have played people depending on the conditions where we feel they will be most effective. That depth has really helped us capitalise on more situations in favour of the team and end up winning Test matches and series. That you can say has been the defining factor.”
There was fulsome praise for Hardik Pandya, the Man of the Match for his breathtaking century, even as Kohli made an oblique reference to not judging him by his appearance. “His performance has spoken for itself. People might have problems with the kind of demeanour he has or the belief he carries with himself, but we certainly in the team have no doubts on that,” he countered. “We let him be who he is, we let him express himself. You know, a guy who can get a fifty and a hundred in his first three games batting at No. 8 has to have something special in him. And the innings that he played here, after being 320 for 6, it wasn’t just mad slogging. He actually used his brain and batted with the tail which I think is a great sign for us. He brings in great balance to the team, he’s a gun fielder and he gives you those crucial breakthroughs. He’s very handy with the ball and we know what he can do with the bat as well. All doubts aside from the outside, inside the team we absolutely have 120% faith in him.”