The most telling piece of statistic that emerged on Tuesday was that India had finally won a Test series on Sri Lankan soil since 1993.
Now for some perspective. That 1-0 triumph — achieved, incredibly, also at the Sinhalese Sports Club — featured Manoj Prabhakar, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Vinod Kambli, Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammad Azharuddin (captain), Pravin Amre, Kapil Dev, Kiran More, Anil Kumble, Rajesh Chauhan and Javagal Srinath. In other words, only two players who went on to become an integral part of the golden generation of Indian cricket have tasted glory in the Emerald Isle.
That Kohli has managed such a feat after a tough loss in Galle is all the more commendable. For starters, Kohli comes across as a bowlers’ captain. Why, else, do you think he has implemented the five-bowler theory? He knows there’s only so much a modest attack can achieve. So, back them and get the batsmen to take up extra responsibility. One is not singing his hosannas but you’ve got to give it to him for bringing out the best in Ishant Sharma, R Ashwin and Amit Mishra all at once.
Secondly, Kohli’s India showed a lot of character after the shocking loss at Galle. Not once did he do, or attempt to do, a U-turn on his “aggressive cricket” stance. In fact, he walked the talk with aplomb. Never mind that India were up against one of the weakest teams in Sri Lankan history. This despite the presence of Kumar Sangakkara for the first two Tests. But an ‘away’ series triumph is worth its weight in gold, especially when it’s come after four years.
“Winning is always really, really encouraging for the squad and specially the way we have won this series should be the right kind of catalyst for us to play the same kind of cricket in future as well, wherever we play,” Kohli said. “We maintain that drawing a Test match or thinking of those sort of things has to be the last option for our group of guys right now. They have responded beautifully and there is nothing better than winning. We spoke about the fact that we want to win Test matches, we want to win series because as a group, you are able to enjoy that victory more.”
On the field, Kohli kept at it. On Tuesday, he asked his bowlers to bowl a fifth-stump line at Angelo Mathews and Kusal Perera. They did just that. And when Ashwin got him the breakthrough at the stroke of tea, Kohli knew half the job was done. After the break, he gave the second new ball to Ishant, who removed Mathews. The rest was a formality.
Kohli admitted that he was sick and tired of watching this team lose matches from winning positions. On Tuesday, he did not panic. Nor he did he let his troops lose hope. “That is one thing I felt standing in the field, just the way the guys have responded to situations, that has changed… We have gone through a learning curve. In the last two years, a lot of people have gone from two Test matches to 20 Test matches or 15-16 Test matches and that has been a learning, how they are able to figure out how they are able to react in a certain situation. That has changed over a period of time and that only comes with experience.”
And winning his first full series as captain is definitely not the culmination of the learning curve for kohli, but it is a springboard for the team to make the leap with his brand of aggressive cricket.