How Kohli has changed India’s attitude

11:24 PM ET

  • Sanjay Manjrekar

Why were we still optimistic about India’s chances in Australia after they had just lost two overseas Test series, in South Africa and England? It wasn’t only because Australia weren’t as strong as before, but also because, even while losing in South Africa and England, this Indian team showed signs of having the potential to win overseas.

After India were 2-0 down in South Africa, I suggested that we should not be too hard on Virat and Co. I felt Kohli‘s team was being judged more harshly because of India’s long-standing, woeful overseas record and not just for being 2-0 down. Fans had lost patience, and their expectations from Indian cricket were high: just home dominance was not enough anymore.

But while going 2-0 down, India showed some admirable qualities and these were underlined when they won the last Test, at the Wanderers. The pitch was treacherous, and the umpires came together a few times to decide whether the surface was dangerous to play on.

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The Indian batsmen took blows on their bodies but did not make a fuss about the surface. Lest the match was called off, they brushed aside fears over the pitch. They wanted to continue batting, to have a shot at winning. The sheer desperation to win a dead rubber on a nasty pitch was a great sight for me, unique in Indian cricket, and my heart went out to them.

In England again, while losing 4-1, India didn’t come across as the Indian team of 2011, which seemed deserving of the scoreline of 4-0 that was inflicted on them. The scoreline of 4-1 in 2018 flattered England and was harsh on India.

India bowled superbly in England, their seamers outpaced the England seamers through the series, and they even caught better than their opposition. Unlike with previous Indian teams on overseas tours, there was just one weakness, the batting, whereas Indian teams of the past always had more than just one ailment.

This is why there was reason to be upbeat about India’s chances in Australia. If India could resolve their batting issues, they could beat Australia despite their recent setbacks overseas; plus, the balls were going to come in straighter lines in Australia, which would make life easier for the batsmen.

“No matter what, this Indian team Kohli leads never looks flat on the field. It’s like how Imran Khan held sway over his side: no one dared doze off while he was around”

While India were losing, their bowling was getting better all the time, but a vital aspect that was not easily evident was the team’s invaluable strength: their temperament and attitude.

I don’t understand why the team management keeps doing it, and it’s extremely hazardous: they must leave the job of rating this current Indian team in comparison to Indian teams of the past to us in the media.

I have no doubt in my mind that temperamentally and attitude-wise this is the best Indian team I have seen. They were defeated in two Tests in South Africa and in four in England, but they never looked beaten.

This will be the legacy that Kohli leaves behind, his big influence and impact on the team. He led from the front at the Wanderers, with his chest out on a dangerous pitch, just to win a dead rubber after being 2-0 down.

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MS Dhoni was perhaps a bit too intelligent for his own good. He had the ability to accurately pre-empt. When Zaheer Khan hobbled off on day one at Lord’s in 2011, it seemed, looking on from the outside, that Dhoni had given up on trying to win the series, what with the kind of attack he was left with, and the fading batting legends he was saddled with. It was all damage control for him after that first day of the series.

If Kohli had been the captain in 2011, he would not have changed the result too much, but such is his nature that he would have come out all charged up, match after match, session after session, thinking he could win regardless of the ground reality, and this way, might have sneaked a win somewhere in that 8-0 record across India’s tours of England and Australia.

Time will tell us how good a captain Kohli will turn out to be, but he has something aplenty that has to rub off on his team-mates – his intensity and an instinct to compete. No matter what, this Indian team he leads never looks flat on the field. It’s like how Imran Khan held sway over his side: no one dared doze off while he was around.

Kohli’s desperation and intensity to compete and win are unmatched, and sometimes it puts pressure on his fellow batsmen, like we saw with Cheteshwar Pujara in South Africa, when he kept getting run-out while trying to expedite the run-scoring. On the field, though, Kohli’s presence creates the right kind of pressure. There is no dull session in the field when he is captaining.

You get the impression some Indian batsmen are struggling to fit into the Kohli culture, but watching Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw, the new-generation batsmen, with their new confidence, you get a sense they might find it easier to fit into the Kohli scheme of things than their predecessors.

The bowlers’ lengths have got fuller under his leadership. This is a sign of self-confidence; India’s bowling overseas, over the years, was always a little short of full length – think Javagal Srinath here.

They aren’t as animated on the field as their captain, but Kohli’s boys are as keen as their captain. I guess they have no choice but to be that way. And this is what I love most about this team.

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