Cricket

Virat Kohli and Co's never say die spirit and self belief shines through in The Oval sun

This is a special team that Kohli has built. They have conquered MCG, Gabba, Lord's and Oval, all in a space of 10 months. They have the momentum on their side. And with the adrenaline running high, Manchester doesn't look too far away.

Virat Kohli and Co's never say die spirit and self belief shines through in The Oval sun

Virat Kohli, left, celebrates with India's Ravindra Jadeja the wicket of England's Haseeb Hameed on day five of the fourth Test match at The Oval. AP

"We like to be in this situation where people start coming at us with doubts and start questioning our ability. That is the situation we love best. We will not be demoralised by this loss."

India had just been beaten by an innings at Headingley. But Virat Kohli had sounded the warning that they will arrive with "more determination and intensity" at The Oval.

And they did. In style.

In the flattest of conditions in the series, they bundled England out in just over two sessions on the final day. It said as much about their self-belief as their skills.

They now stand on the cusp of a special series win, India's first in 14 years in England, leading 2-1 with one Test to go.

India's Virat Kohli, left, celebrates with India's Ravindra Jadeja the wicket of England's Haseeb Hameed on day five of the fourth Test match at The Oval cricket ground in London, Monday, Sept. 6, 2021. AP

India's Virat Kohli, left, celebrates with India's Ravindra Jadeja the wicket of England's Haseeb Hameed on day five of the fourth Test match at The Oval cricket ground in London, Monday, Sept. 6, 2021. AP

In the past, we've seen India crumble overseas when the chips are down. The 2014 series would have been fresh in their minds. They went 1-0 up with the Lord's win. But then lost the next and kept spiraling downwards to lose the series 1-3. Rewind three years more and they were hammered 4-0 in Australia and England.

Factor this, from 2000-2017, India played 21 Test series outside Asia. In only three of these series were India able to win a match after having lost a game: England 2002, Australia 2007/08 and South Africa 2010/11.

Since the start of 2018, India have played seven Test series outside Asia. And they have claimed wins after losing a game in five of these series.

They had started this series on a positive note in Nottingham and were in the driver's seat going into Day 5 before rain played spoilsport. They carried forward the momentum and won at Lord's t take the lead in the series. However, against the run of play, they were stunned at Headingley.

Kohli was honest and forthright in admitting that they failed as a batting unit in the first innings and were inconsistent with the ball. The innings defeat had hurt them.

They didn't find back their groove when they arrived at The Oval. The batting problems had reared again. It all seemed to be crumbling at 127/7. But then began the great Indian fightback.

What has set this Indian team apart in the last few years is their never-say-die attitude. Time and again, they have found themselves with their backs to the wall. And time and again, they have kept bouncing back. It's a testament to their mental strength and self belief. And this self-belief stems from the confidence in their skills.

In Australia, they were blown away for 36 in the pink-ball Test at Adelaide. They kept losing their first-team players match after match to injuries. They didn't have their captain and premier batsman who had flown back home for the birth of his child. The net bowlers and reserves were given an SOS call. Keeping all this aside, imagine the mental impact it would have had on them losing inside three days along with posting their lowest ever total in history.

However, in the face of adversity, they picked up the pieces, displayed tremendous mental fortitude to script a famous turnaround. It included a couple of special come from behind wins and a gutsy draw. Three months later, they were hammered by an innings in the Test series opener at home against England. They bounced back to clinch the series 3-1 and qualify for the World Test Championship final.

Kohli is an aggressive and in-your-face character and he's moulded this team in a similar way. His aggression has rubbed off on this team. He doesn't want to draw Test matches. He wants to win them. He's not afraid of losing because he knows that this fearless attitude will win him more matches than he will lose. He knows if you don't go for it now, you never will. It's not just Kohli, each member inside that dressing room has his own story that keeps inspiring. When there is such an atmosphere developed inside the dressing room match after match, the positivity automatically gets embedded. The self-belief gets stronger. And then you keep winning, sometimes from improbable situations and the confidence keeps shooting higher. It's a chain. A chain which you want to get addicted to.

At Lord's Kohli asked his bowlers to make those final 60 overs of the Test feel like hell for the English batsmen.

They indeed made them feel like hell.

India were playing the chasing game throughout that Lord's Test. They were effectively 182/7 in their second innings. But then the English players made Jasprit Bumrah angry.

And life was never the same again for them in the Test. Bumrah and Shami launched a stunning counter-attack to not just declare their innings and set a target of 272 but also bowl England out for 120 to win the Test. The only relief for the English batsmen was that they were relieved of the hell 8.5 overs early.

After the Headingley defeat, India were pushed back right from the start at The Oval. At 127/7, they were staring down the barrell. But then Shardul Thakur launched a stunning counterattack. A 36-ball 57 blitz dragged India to 191. It changed the momentum of the game.

Those 57 runs were extremely crucial in the context of the game. It not only provided India some respectability but also changed the mood. It also hurt England. These lower-order runs can be frustrating and can have a significant impact on the psyche of the opposition.

They carried forward the momentum to put England under the pump at 62/5 but then England staged their own rearguard to be ahead in the match with a 99-run lead.

In a Test that ebbed and flowed, India clawed back again. Rohit Sharma led the way with his first away century. The top order clicked. Then they were jolted, again. At 312/6 when they lost their captain, they were still in a tricky situation with just 211 ahead and a long tail to come. The out-of-from Rishabh Pant got together with Thakur to play an uncharacteristic knock of 50 off 106 balls. Thakur again played a crucial knock of 60 off 72 balls to take India past 400. Bumrah and Umesh piled on frustration for England as India set England a 368-run target.

England started off well and went into Day 5 at 77/0, needing 291 from 90 overs. All four results were possible but the possibility of a draw and an England win looked slightly higher given the fact that the pitch was flat and the sun was shining with the temperature expected to hit 27 degrees Celcius. Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed added 23 runs more in the morning to bring up 100-run stand. India needed a wicket. Kohli threw the ball to Shardul. The impact player made an impact straight away to provide an opening, with a jaffa to get Burns, 50, caught behind.

Later in the day, he would get the prized wicket of a solid-looking Root. Two crucial fifties. Two crucial wickets. Thakur was the game changer.

Thakur embodies India's never say die attitude. The early hardships have ingrained toughness. His confidence stands out and it reflects in his cricket.

India's Shardul Thakur celebrates taking the wicket of England's Joe Root, right, on Day 5 of the fourth Test match at The Oval. AP

India's Shardul Thakur celebrates taking the wicket of England's Joe Root, right, on Day 5 of the fourth Test match at The Oval. AP

"Whenever I've got a chance and whenever there have been tense situations, I always relate it to the hard work I have done since my childhood, Thakur said in an interview with Hotstar. Like in my teenage, getting up early and travelling two hours for cricket practice in a jam-packed local train amidst pushes and shoves with these big kit bags, that was within itself a fight back. There are many instances in my life where I have had varied experiences. These small things count when you are playing a big match. You just go into a flashback and I don't feel that at any given stage that I should give up."

"What Shardul has done in this game has to be remembered for a long time," Kohli said after the match.

These were batting friendly conditions but India combined their self-belief and skills to make things happen. It didn't take much time for talks to shift from the possibility of an England win to a draw to an Indian win on Day 5. Substitute Mayank Agarwal ran Dawid Malan out before lunch. India upped their ante after lunch and that six-over period between 62 to 68 turned the match around. Jadeja utilised the rough to clean up Hameed and send back Moeen Ali. There was nothing in the pitch, so they made the ball reverse. Bumrah asked Kohli for the scoffed ball and did Bumrah things to scythe through the defense of Ollie Pope and then clean up Bairstow with a reverse swinging yorker.

The collapse was triggered. It was fascinating to watch the master at work.

Root and Woakes provided some resistance. Kohli then brought back Thakur, the new ball was available but he didn't take it. He had the confidence that they can knock them over with the old ball. Thakur answered his captain's call by making Root drag one off the first ball. From then on, it was just a matter of when and not if. Kohli handed the ball to Umesh and he polished the tail off. The adept bowling changes had worked.

The two reinforcements had made a significant impact in the series. Shardul and Umesh had replaced Shami and Ishant, who were rested. It again provided a deep dive into the rich Indian talent reservoir and bench strength.

"The ball got scuffed up nicely and we managed to make one side heavier," Kohli explained. "And our guys, when the ball is reversing enough, they become much more lethal. We exploited reverse swing perfectly today and actually, we were looking forward to the opportunity of bowling with the old ball and we looked at that as a positive rather than thinking, 'look nothing's happening from the pitch, what are we going to do here?' Rather than that, we believed as a team that, yes, we could get all 10 wickets today and that's exactly why it happened because the boys had belief."

This is a special team that Kohli has built. They have conquered MCG, Gabba, Lord's and Oval, all in a space of 10 months. They have the momentum on their side. And with the adrenaline running high, Manchester doesn't look too far away.

Updated Date: September 07, 2021 09:44:50 IST

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