What explains Virat Kohli’s and India’s success?

By John Cheeran

As the year ends, there is little doubt that India, Virat Kohli’s India, that is, is the best cricket team out there. And the loudest heard question in 2018, is this the best Indian team ever, has been answered, substantially, if not fully, in Australia; in Adelaide and Melbourne.

All credit to Kohli for leading India from the front, scoring runs, and keeping the aggressive intent intact. Kohli is far from a perfect cricketer, but he is bold and brilliant; strong and stubborn. He is articulate even though you may disagree with him on matters cricket and otherwise. His uber patriotism comes across as a jarring note in an otherwise ‘take no prisoner attitude’, a quality that is not always associated with Indian excellence.

Kohli does not read C S Lewis, who agonized over faith and God’s will. Kohli, however, kept his faith intact in his men who threw it away in South Africa and England. It is not easy. Especially when the skipper does not have a Jagmohan Dalmiya or N Srinivasan to bank on but a petty bureaucrat who cooked up an accounting scam and pretends to be MCC unto himself. There is no Vinod in it when the CAG of Indian cricket asks for a forensic audit into a batting collapse.

Kohli, however, is not Indian cricket. He symbolizes the best and the brightest of the lot. And skipper knows that without that committed Gandhian accumulator of runs, Cheteshwar Pujara, this ship would have sunk. And without the trishul of Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Mohmmad Shami he could not have pierced the heart of Australian batting. And the joi de vivre that a Rishabh Pant brings on to keep the spirits high. And the others.

As when young men in their twenties and thirties are involved in a collective effort, there have been errors of judgement too–of not picking the right men for the job. But sport is only part theory. It is also about pluck and luck and being better than the opposition.

The opposition, in this case, was important. Did anyone expect the Australians to outpunch India, even if it is their own turf. It is a Paine. This is the weakest Australian side in many memories, feebler than the Bob Simpson’s Kerry Packer emaciated bunch. But India cannot select its opposition, you play against those who are ranged against. Yet, the fragility of the Australian batting was an important factor in making India great. Let us not forget this.

As India rejoices in the grand MCG victory, there is a new narrative presented, about its fierce pace attack, especially that of the sui generis bowler, Jasprit Bumrah. Bumrah has had an astounding entry into Test cricket, taking 48 wickets in his first 9 Tests. He has troubled batsmen, taken wickets at different climes with his confounding action and disconcerting pace, bounce and variations. And he is so calm. And he has handled both the white and the red ball with a craftiness that should be the envy of his contemporaries.

Given the conditions, be it in South Africa, England or Australia, Indian bowlers have hit back at the opposition and finally, down under, delivered the knockout blow. These Australians, their batsmen, look confounded. They have been hit hard by Bumrah not merely on the helmet but at their inner self. It does not look like they will be able to pick themselves up in Sydney, unlike the Aussies of the past. Even Jesus would have a tough time to resurrect them.

That, then, is the good news Kohli and his men should carry with them into 2019. Their greatness is marked by their opponents’ ordinariness. There is a lot to be upbeat. There is a lot to be proud. They are at the top. The next step has to be careful, for this team’s strongest opponent is going to be itself, sooner or later.

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