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19 May 2024, Edition - 3232, Sunday

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Not so great, not yet: Dear Kohli, thank you for giving the hype machine a miss



Despite a spate of dominant wins in the recent past, the India captain has his eyes set on bullying opponents in ‘alien’ conditions.

India’s win over Australia in the fifth and final One-day International at Nagpur helped the hosts complete a 4-1 scoreline – the first time that a subcontinent side has beaten Australia in four matches in a bilateral series. It was big because India did to Australia what the side from Down Under have done to so many sides over the years – they seized the big moments with a ruthlessness that has perhaps come to define Virat Kohli.

So good have India been in the recent past that former captain Sunil Gavaskar, without any allusion to mirth, said that this team was one of the greatest ODI teams that India has produced. Of course, part of hyperbole came from his job as an expert for a TV channel. But still – this was an Indian team that was starting most matches as favourites and living up to the tag as well.

Kohli’s response to the praise told it’s own story.

“It is a decent compliment. Obviously coming from him (Gavaskar), it feels good because he has seen a lot of Indian teams over the past few years,” Kohli told reporters after the fourth ODI.

“(But) the journey is long because the team is young. We are playing at home right now. If we can replicate this form in conditions that are alien to us after that we can sit down and be happy with what we have done so far,” he added.

Kohli realises that this Indian team – or for that matter – any Indian teams greatest challenge has been winning abroad. The numbers reflect that in good measure and they stand as a potent reminder of a statistic that Kohli as an captain is keen to start changing.

A quick look at India’s Test results in ‘alien’ conditions:
In Australia: 44 Tests, 5 wins, 28 losses, 11 draws, a winning percentage of 11.36

In England: 57 Tests, 6 wins, 30 losses, 21 draws, a winning percentage of 10.52
In South Africa: 17 Tests, 2 wins, 8 losses, a winning percentage of 11.76
In West Indies: 49 Tests, 7 wins, 16 losses, a winning percentage of 14.28
In New Zealand: 23 Tests, 5 wins, 8 losses, 10 draws, a winning percentage of 21.73

ODIs in ‘alien’ conditions
In Australia: 93 ODIs, 37 wins, 50 losses, a winning percentage of 42.69
In England: 71 ODIs, 35 wins, 32 losses, a winning percentage of 52.20
In South Africa: 47 ODIs, 17 wins, 26 losses, a winning percentage of 39.77
In West Indies: 42 ODIs, 17 wins, 23 losses, a winning percentage of 42.50
In New Zealand: 42 ODIs, 14 wins, 25 losses, a winning percentage of 36.25

The ODI numbers are far better but that is also a reflection of the different challenges the format presents. The Test record is a sad reflection of how difficult it has been for India to win while touring abroad. India have been touring Australia, England, New Zealand and the West Indies for a long, long time but the lack of wins hurts. And that is one statistic that needs to start changing quickly.

So it’s good to see that Virat Kohli does not believe the hype about India being the best team in the world or even the one of the greatest Indian teams ever. It’s good because at the end of the day, ‘greatest’ is just a tag. It also means that he still has his eyes set on a greater prize – winning more matches (especially Tests) away from home. Perhaps even noteworthy is that it has always been this way. Even when he was just a player.

The first time he addressed the Indian team as Test captain was just before they flew to Australia before the last Test tour (2014), he lay down the ground rules.

“It was in the manager’s room at the team hotel before we flew to Australia. I told the guys that we are not going there for personal achievements. I told the guys if anyone sitting in the room is thinking I am going to Australia to get two hundreds, I am going to Australia to get three five-wicket hauls, he can be open about it now and he needs to change the mindset. We are going to Australia to win the series. Even the smallest contribution that helps us win a Test match, for me that guy is the Man of the Match. That is the sort of feeling we wanted to spread across the team, where the team feels united, feels together,” Kohli had said in an interview to ESPNCricinfo.

In the years that have gone by since, Virat has grown as a batsman and as a captain. The rules, though, remain the same. In interviews, in press conferences, in casual conversations – Virat is all about winning matches. A draw is fine, even a loss is fine as long as India goes for the jugular.

Perhaps most notable is how the team has responded to his clarion call. In the series against Australia – they were ruthless. They was no lethargy because Virat wouldn’t allow it – neither of himself nor of his team. Against Sri Lanka, India were just as brutal. This is a team that believes it is time to start winning not just at home but perhaps away too. Not just because it will help cement their legacy but simply because it is the only way to play.

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