It would be easy to trivialise India’s innings and 239 runs Test victory over Sri Lanka as a win of little consequence. But that would do injustice to the enormous positives that could be gleaned from the win.
Chief among them would be the appreciation that winning, like many other traits in sport, is a habit. Much has been made of practice, rhythm, process, reaction time, reflexes, strength, stamina, bat speed and discipline. However, inculcating a winning habit is far more important than all these.
This is because winning, and winning regularly at that, demands its own set of dynamics which successful teams embrace diligently and internalise the values and beliefs that go hand in hand.
Some of these values are the ones already mentioned above. They include hard work, objectives, co-operation, positive mental make-up, ambition, strategising, commitment and honesty.
By and large, Virat Kohli has not only carried forward Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s legacy, but also thrust his own temperament and mental make-up into the psyche of the team.
This is particularly evident when the team is loath to take its foot off the gas pedal. It takes no prisoners. While this might make wins against teams like Sri Lanka, West Indies and other such teams seem easy, it is important to point out that it brings to the fore a ruthless streak that was not part of any previous Indian teams.
This ruthlessness is to be embraced because it sets in motion certain processes that are mandatory for champion sides.
Hard work, for instance, is a given. This could mean gym work, speed, strength or cricketing skills itself. These traits could be seen in many of the current Indian players. Some, like Bhuvneshwar Kumar have persevered to add pace to their bowling, while others, like Hardik Pandya or Manish Pandey show great speed in running between the wickets and while fielding.
The earlier skipper Dhoni was instrumental in getting rid of some of the senior players who, he believed, were too slow and hence unsuited for the modern game. Kohli has carried forward that philosophy with a zeal. The Indian team of today is one of the fittest on the international circuit, with even Ravichandran Ashwin going in that extra mile to stay in the mix.
Pointedly, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ashwin went away to England during the Indian Premier League months and after it to improve their skills set.
Successful team players know that commitment, sincerity, ambition and honesty are required to help the team stay ahead. While some teams resort to winning ugly — also a euphemism for cheating — the more successful ones steer clear of such tactics as these are short-term, hollow and against their process.
Another important trait of winning teams is their positive mental make-up. They always believe they can win. When the team is in a mini-crisis they believe a turnaround is just the corner and try to be part of that role reversal. This never-say-die approach can easily be seen in the high number of wins the Indian team has snatched from poor positions.
Kohli’s double hundred or the centuries by others — Murali Vijay, Pujara and Rohit Sharma — are part of the ruthlessness that is staple fare for champions. Roger Federer, for instance, is unapologetic when he crushes first round opponents 6-0, 6-0. This current Indian team is developing along those lines where achievements and process makes it inconsequential as to who is the opponent.
Those compartmentalising opponents as easy or tough are the ones failing to come good in this current team. For the rest it is time we celebrated the streak of victories that Kohli and his team have come up with.
Even a casual look at some traits will reveal how impressive Kohli and his team have been in the recent past. Consequently they are in the company of acknowledged champions: Most wins as captain after 31 Tests — Ricky Pointing 23, Steve Waugh 21 and Kohli 20.
Now if that is not convincing, perhaps this should set at rest all doubts: Most victories in Tests since 2016: 16 — India; 11 — England, South Africa; 9 — Sri Lanka, Australia; 6 — New Zealand, Pakistan; 4 —West Indies.
Kohli has surrounded himself with a support staff and a team that believes in his brand of cricket and their hard as nails, no-comprise approach is fetching results. India have not seen results such as this before. So why not sit back and enjoy the ride?