Will Virat Kohli's team be as successful overseas as it is on home turf?
Critics have started asking questions: So what you won the series against Australia? So what you won four of them in the season? Weren't you playing on home tracks? Prove that you are as good overseas. That's where the challenge is; that's where glory is.
If not made with malicious intent, these are valid questions. What's greatness in batting if runs are not scored in the swinging conditions in England, the bouncy tracks of Australia, tricky pitches of New Zealand or alien conditions in South Africa? What's great bowling if it's not about troubling and taming batsmen in their comfort zone? And what's team success without a partisan crowd grudgingly acknowledging it with muted appreciation? It's better than any ICC ranking earned through victories at home.
Thus when cricketing great Sunil Gavaskar says, "It is great that we do well at home, it is pretty much expected. But winning overseas is a completely different satisfaction. It's a great satisfaction," it strikes a chord. Consistent overseas victories have been a challenge for India for long. The current team won't be unaware that they would ultimately be judged by how they perform in away contests. The just-concluded series provides glimpses of why the Virat Kohli-led team would not be a disappointment.
A great team is never about isolated brilliance or a sum total of the talent of its individual members. It is much more than that. The series victory against Australia was a group effort, unlike the series against England where the prolific Kohli overshadowed the team. Against the Aussies, Kohli failed to shine. That was a good opportunity for other batsmen to rise to the occasion. From KL Rahul to Ravindra Jadeja through Chateswar Pujara to Ajinkya Rahane, they did it brilliantly. It was not about the scores only, it was more about how the grit and determination they displayed to take the battle to the opponents known for their battle-hardened quality.
Same goes for the bowlers. Starting with the spinners, given his track record, Ravichandran Ashwin was expected to be outstanding. But Jadeja, so far little more than a support bowler, came into his own to steal Ashwin's thunder. Jadeja's 25 wickets in the series was his coming of age as a bowler. Ashwin and Jadeja hunted in a pair, seeking out flaws in the batsmen and wearing them down ball after ball. India could have found its Anil Kumble-Harbhajan Singh combination for the Kohli age, finally. The emergence of Kuldeep Yadav, a left-arm Chinaman bowler – a rare species in cricket – is an indicator that we could be forming a formidable spin triad, a strong bet on foreign wickets.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the series is the discovery of a genuine fast bowling duo. When did you last see an Indian fast bowler making batsmen hop in the crease or ducking for cover under a barrage of short, well-directed deliveries? Australian batsmen are used to pace and it was a revelation watching them getting uncomfortable facing Umesh Yadav. Umesh surely has come miles from his erratic days. His pace was never in doubt but what was missing so far was control. His fiery spell in Dharamsala revealed that he had acquired both. And the combination is a deadly asset on fast wickets in other countries. Meanwhile, Bhuvneshwar Kumar has acquired speed and has teamed it up well with swing that comes naturally to him. In the Bhuvneshwar-Umesh combination India has finally found what it takes to crack the overseas code.
The team has balance and talent. However, one of the biggest factors that works for it is the confidence and ability to fight back after being in desperate situations. There were many occasions like that in the series against Steve Smith and Co. What we witnessed against Australia was a team at work, which as mentioned earlier, is more than the combination of individual talents. It reflects in abstracts such as aggression and self-assuredness. On overseas tours this would work in India's favour.
Virat Kohli has been exceptional in India; there's no reason why he won't win glory abroad.