In the late 1990s and 2000s, when the Australian cricket team was dominating the sport like few other teams have done before them, we heard the term 'Australianism' a lot. It was by no means a modern term. Harsha Bhogle, in his piece about Australianism referred to the famous English writer and commentator, John Arlott's definition of Australianism written in 1949.
In Arlott's words, "We are faced with Australian batting, bowling, fielding, captaincy - and `Australianism'. 'Australianism' means single-minded determination to win – to win within the laws, but if necessary, to the last limit within them." He goes on to say, "They have never lost a match – particularly a Test match - until the last run is scored or their last wicket has fallen."
The Australian team across different eras have carried the baton of Australianism forward and even though the current team is a shadow of some of the great Australian teams from the past, it is capable of coming hard at you and fighting till the last ball even when the odds are stacked against them, as they showed on their tour to India earlier this year.
Sports teams are often a reflection of the national ethos. Sports teams from New Zealand, be it rugby or cricket, are a good example of that. When Brendon McCullum was stuck with an identity crisis for the team, he found the answer in going back to the values of being humble and hardworking that New Zealanders hold dear to them. The legacy is being carried forward by Kane Williamson's team that always manages to raise its game for the occasion without letting the sense of occasion affect their demeanour.
The Indian team, on the other hand, has traditionally been known to have a star culture that relies on one or two key performers to take the responsibility and steer the ship for the whole team (much like the rest of the nation) and also a reputation of buckling under pressure. But if nations can change, so can team culture. Has the Indian cricket culture changed? If it has, then to what extent? And is there a definite point where this change started?
Anil Kumble may have answered the question of 'when' on Tuesday in his talk with Hyderabad-born Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, when the two were discussing the latter's book titled Hit Refresh. When asked about Indian cricket's hit refresh moment, Kumble pointed out a singular series in 2001 that changed how the team approached the game in years to come. "If you have to pick one hit refresh moment, it was the Australia-India series in 2001." It was that team under Sourav Ganguly that started to believe in fighting against all odds and fighting together as a team, not as individuals. That belief was further strengthened when two rookies guided India to the Natwest series final win in 2002. Since then, that legacy has been taken forward by all of Ganguly's successors.
Under Virat Kohli's reign, the ability to bounce back has been the hallmark of the Indian team. They bounced back against Australia after being 0-1 down in the Test series earlier this year and then getting all out in the second Test at Bengaluru. In the just-concluded ODI series against New Zealand, the tourists stunned the hosts in the first game at Mumbai. Team India pulled up their socks in time to win the last two games and the series. In the T20I series, Kohli's men were facing prospects of a series defeat in an eight-over lottery on a sluggish pitch, but came out with a composed bowling effort and an electrifying performance in the field to claim the series.
Going back to Arlott's definition on Australianism, "It means that where the 'impossible' is within the realm of what the human body can do, there are Australians who believe that they can do it - and who have succeeded often enough to make us wonder if anything is impossible to them." When Kohli looks around him in the dressing room, he sees men who don't just believe they can do the impossible, they thrive in it. Starting with captain Kohli himself, who has never understood the concept of giving up on a run chase. Then there is the de facto captain, MS Dhoni who has set such unrealistic expectations of himself that it seems impossible to see him not delivering in crunch moments under pressure when the law of averages catches up.
For opponents, it's possible to take a couple of senior pros like Kohli and Dhoni out of the game at times, but their belief, calmness and utter confidence has spread like an infection across this team. Youngsters like Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Yuzvendra Chahal with just one or two seasons of international cricket experience under their belt hardly flinch while walking into a pressure situation that would have made some of the earlier Indian cricketers feel their heartbeats racing. They all put their hands up when their captain looks at them unlike some of the earlier generations that may have looked the other way. Some would say they have had luck on their side in crucial moments, but in sports, luck is often the love child of talent and belief.
A sports team isn't just a sum of talents of individual men. It's that all-encompassing special ingredient of team spirit that runs across the board in every player individually and in the team as a whole that decides how far they can go. Kohli's team isn't a finished product yet. They don't have an answer to all questions. The No 4 batsman, the finisher, a spin bowling all-rounder, are all questions that hang in the air in every team meeting. But even as the team is trying to find the best combination, the drive to win at all costs is constantly high. If this generation can sustain this attitude and pass it on to the next generation of cricketers, then it wouldn't be far-fetched to imagine a time 20-30 years from now when 'Indianism' in cricket will be glorified by a distinguished writer from the opposition camp.