"Winning is not everything; it is the only thing," was denounced as an infamous quote and attributed to a no-holds barred American college football coach. But there's much to be said for its positive philosophy as forcefully brought to the fore by Virat Kohli and his team Down Under.
Their unwavering, single-minded focus helped overcome several setbacks and converted every post to a winning one through the third Test at Melbourne. This was made possible solely because winning was the 'only thing' for the team.
Beating Australia in Australia was never going to be easy. Even the Kerry Packer-ravaged Australian team with one and a half decent players had trounced a full-fledged Indian team in the late 1970s.
Not for nothing is playing Australia in their backyard a challenge for most international teams. The home team when pushed to the wall fights back with all the ferocity of a cornered animal.
Even in this Test the magnificent rearguard action of the ninth wicket pair of Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon cannot be discounted, for sheer tenacity and fighting spirit. Their stubborn partnership extended a match that looked done and dusted by tea on the fourth day into the fifth day where the scare of rains washing out play became all too real.
Luckily the rains relented and after an early lunch India settled the issue with a 137-run win.
Here it must be pointed out that many past Indian teams were not ambitious enough to take the fight to the distance. They easily lost sight of the big picture after one good session, day's play or Test.
But Kohli's team was different, especially on this tour. They not only sought to imprint their superiority in every session, but always gave the impression to friends and foes alike that they were hungry for more.
Additionally, they confidently backed their strengths and played a waiting game whenever the opposition wrested the upper hand.
This was literally the key to taming Australia. It was extremely important for Indian players to stay patient and wait for opportunities to strike back against a team which boasted of a world class bowling unit. They also had a terrific fielding side to shore it up. Even in batting, the Australians might not have had brilliant players, but they batted deep and could frustrate bowling teams with their doggedness which was boosted by their familiarity with surfaces.
The Indian team was not only aware of these strengths, but were prepared to stand toe to toe when required in a stirring battle of attrition.
Kohli's team already had plenty of muscle even before it took the field. The gaps, though, had to be addressed and drastic action had to be undertaken.
The opening batting slots were a blot, as were the middle-order batting positions that followed Kohli's.
Fortunately India came up with the right changes. They discarded both openers — Murali Vijay and KL Rahul — and summoned untested Mayank Agarwal. He was given his Test cap as an endorsement of faith in his performance in domestic and India 'A' cricket. His partner was another rookie, Hanuma Vihari, rather than Rohit Sharma.
Although Rohit had greater experience in playing the new ball, especially as he opens the batting in white-ball cricket, Vihari ticked the boxes for grit, gumption and batting discipline.
But Agarwal was the ace. He turned out to be a brilliant choice. While there were a few pundits who felt that throwing him into the lion's den for his debut Test was fraught with danger, his positive energy and the eagerness to fit into the larger scheme of things won the day.
Agarwal's faith in Vipassana, or Mindfulness as its repackaged version is called, is well known in cricket circles. He believes it helps him concentrate better, even as he appreciates and stays aware of the challenges surrounding him. It also helps him bring a cheerful positivity to outlook. Nothing brought this out better than the manner in which he tackled Australia's dreaded fast bowlers on the first morning.
Agarwal batted as though he belonged in this league all along and showed absolutely no nerves whether in letting the ball go through, defending or driving on the up. It was a most refreshing outlook and his positive energy soon rubbed off on the rest of the team.
His partner Vihari was also grimly determined. He looked solid in defence. He might not have scored many runs in either innings. But he showed character in defending. For someone who had never opened the batting in any form of the game, his was a most impressive performance and cannot be undervalued for lack of runs.
The impact of his innings was worth much more as it protected India's two best batsmen, Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli, from the new ball at a time when they could have been vulnerable. In the first innings, he fell only in the 19th over and in the second he hung on till the 13th over.
Pujara and Kohli capitalised on this in the first essay and showed character and class in withstanding everything the Aussies threw at them. Pujara made an invaluable hundred that helped keep the innings on even keel. Kohli was not far behind with his 82. Rohit Sharma's unbeaten 63 was also a timely one, with Ajinkya Rahane chipping in with 34 and Rishab Pant with 39. This batting effort had team work stamped all over it.
The real challenge for India lay in its bowlers' fitness. Having gone into the Test with just four frontline bowlers, Kohli had to ensure that they stayed fit over the course of two innings and beyond.
The foursome hunted in a pack as they supported and complemented each other in session after session. Jasprit Bumrah who has bowled more overs than any other fast bowler this year across all formats (509.3 overs before the start of this innings to second placed Kagiso Rabada's 461) rose to the challenge superbly. Ravindra Jadeja who was said to be suffering from a shoulder strain too was splendid in his marathon spells while Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami were used for short bursts only.
This ensured that the four were not overworked. This was absolutely necessary as Melbourne could be horrendously uncomfortable and energy sapping for bowlers at this time of the year. Kohli by rotating the four and keeping them fresh for the second essay too showed that he was on top of the situation
Ultimately the win was all about teamwork. It was not only an historic one but has come as a shot in the arm for Indian cricket. Another win, or even a draw at Sydney, should be the icing on the cake for the New Year.
For now though, let's toast this magnificent win as the ideal New Year gift for a cricket-crazy nation. The team and its unwavering focus have made us all stand tall. Cheers to that!
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