"We were totally convinced in our minds that a result is possible - either we will win or the match will be drawn. We didn't even think about defeat. We have to continue that mindset in the next few matches," a relieved Virat Kohli said after the Adelaide Test win.
The stress on the word mindset was massive by the skipper as he was well aware of numerous occasions this year when his team had surrendered the advantage from a position of ascendency and handover the victory to the opposition.
After all, it hasn’t been an easy year for Kohli and Co. The No 1 Test side in the world set out in early 2018 with an aim to become the best travelling side but the last 12 months have been nothing less than baptism by fire. Whatever false perceptions easy wins at home may have built about away challenges, were quickly dismantled by the high tides of overseas’ shores.
However, the 2-1 and then 4-1 series defeats in South Africa and England respectively seem to have ironed out the pitfalls. The coach and captain constantly spoke about learning from the mistakes but it seems like the enlightenment finally arrived Down Under.
It was almost a complete performance at Adelaide that helped India script history and it was a by-product of the decisions and actions taken as result of learnings from mistakes committed earlier.
From getting the playing XI right to seizing upon the key moments. Team India, over the course of five days at Adelaide, went for all the right choices.
The selection came into question in South Africa where vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane was left out of the first two Tests. similarly, at Edgbaston, Cheteshwar Pujara was asked to warm the bench to fit in KL Rahul into the side.
But after dishing out blunders in openers in last two away series, Kohli finally picked an XI more on merit rather than on hunch or form.
Both Pujara and Rahane played crucial innings at Adelaide with the Saurashtra batsman earning his first Man of the Match award outside Asia. In the past, Pujara has been asked to hurry up with his scoring rate but the complete opposite of it, the calmness, doggedness, grit and patience helped him bail India out from a position of 86/5 to 250 in the first innings.
In the second innings, his determined 71 and Rahane’s mature 70 helped visitors set up a record target of 323, a task which proved to be too big for Tim Paine and Co.
You could be forgiven if you thought fishing is the favourite pass time of Indian batsmen, after all, it was the bad habit of chasing full and wide deliveries that led to the collapse in the first innings and on previous tours. However, as Ravi Shastri pointed out after the match, they were quick to rectify it. Hell, even Murali Vijay and Rahul, the weakest students in Indian batting class, brought up a fifty partnership - the first for the respective opening pair.
What changes did they make? New to the Australian pitches in first innings, batsmen in second innings were more “upright” to counter the extra bounce. A small technical adjustment that led to bigger benefits.
It was late in England that India reverted to four bowlers strategy and that served them well in Adelaide as well. Bhuvneshwar Kumar was extremely unlucky to miss out on the first Test but lack of 'helpful' conditions and the confidence of the think tank in abilities of Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami along with a single spinner, R Ashwin, gave India the cushion to play an extra batsman.
Apart from rattling the Australian batting line-up, it was the bowlers’ successful operation against the lower-order, their biggest adversary in recent times, that helped India prize Australia out.
The lower-order proved too hard to chew for Indian pacers in England, often allowing the opposition to encash cheques they were not entitled to. But at Adelaide, the three-pronged attack was in no mood to experience déjà vu. They hunted in a pack like wolves, orchestrated by relentless bowling from both ends, stifling the opposition for freedom and forcing them to commit mistakes. The Australian tail did wag to an extent in the second innings but the pacers stuck to their premeditated plan and it produced results eventually.
Seven out of eight lower-order wickets in both innings collectively fell to pacers, exhibiting the success pacers had in limiting the rearguard damage.
The victory was one for the ages as India registered their first win in a series opener in Australia but it was still not a complete performance. The struggle of openers and Rohit Sharma’s poor returns leave enough room for improvement going into the second Test. Kohli’s men have shown real adaptability and tenacity in the first Test, which should hold them in good stead going forward.
More importantly, the Adelaide win has set the tone for the series. India lost the first match both in South Africa and England despite being in strong positions in both matches at some point in time. Defeats in first matches later snowballed into series defeats and it was too late by the time they took stock of the situations and attempted to mount a comeback.
The story Down Under is completely different. They have the initiative, 1-0 lead in the Test series and history in sights. After all, well begun is half done.