India vs Australia: Virat Kohli and Co's mental strength can help them bounce back after Pune shock

Flashback to 2015: The first Test of the series between India and Sri Lanka in Galle. The hosts have a relatively inexperienced side and India are firm favourites to win the series. As expected, India start off in a blistering fashion, bundling Sri Lanka out for 183, despite losing the toss.

The visitors then manage a hefty 192-run lead despite off-spinner Tharindu Kaushal ransacking the Indian middle and lower order to take five wickets. India further tighten the grip on the game by reducing Sri Lanka to 95/5 in the second innings.

But then, out of nowhere, Dinesh Chandimal plays a freak innings of 162 and there is a drastic turnaround. Defending a target of 176, left-arm spinner Rangana Herath scythes through the Indian batting line-up with seven wickets, to power the hosts to a comfortable victory. India are 0-1 down in the three-match series.

Indian Test cricket captain Virat Kohli takes a catch during a practice session. AFP

Indian Test cricket captain Virat Kohli takes a catch during a practice session. AFP

It was Virat Kohli's first full series as captain and just the fourth overall. And he has started off with a shocker.

"We definitely have it in us to bounce back. There is no point thinking about living in the past. That particular evening, we got together, sat as a team and didn't speak about cricket. Which I think is the most important thing," Kohli said after the defeat.

"This is a learning curve. Guys will learn how to get over defeats and prepare for the next one. The good thing is everyone's hungry, everyone's keen to perform, everyone's keen to repeat good habits and not repeat the mistakes that happened in the last game which helps you focus on the next game," he added.

What followed was India’s first series victory in Sri Lanka for 22 years. India’s first away series win since 2011. India's first-ever comeback win in an away series after losing the first Test, and the third overall, having earlier done so against England (1972-73) and Australia (2000-01). And a marathon 19-Test unbeaten run.

Kohli looked at it as an opportunity to learn rather than an adversity and what followed was a period of sustained domination. It was Kohli's mental strength that held him in good stead and the Galle Test impacted Kohli's captaincy and Indian cricket in a big way.

As India crumbled to a comprehensive defeat against Australia in Pune, memories of that Galle Test resurfaced. Another left-arm spinner – Steve O'Keefe – ripped through the hosts. Another batsman – Steve Smith – played an imperious knock in the second innings. And it was another shock defeat which caught India off-guard.

While all the focus is centred around the M Chinnaswamy pitch, there is one important question that pops up now: Can India bounce back?

Well, they have done it before. After the Galle loss, India went on to win the next two Tests to clinch the series. Against New Zealand, in the second Test in Kolkata last year, they had taken a 112-run lead but were languishing at 43/4 in the second innings. Rohit Sharma and Wriddhiman Saha then stitched together a strong rearguard to set a target of 376 and then Mohammed Shami along with Ravindra Jadeja broke the Kiwis' resistance to win the Test.

"We were put under pressure. We expect that from a side like New Zealand. But it takes character to bounce back every time, and that's what the boys did," Kohli said after the match.

Against England, at Rajkot, in the first Test of the series, India encountered a rare stutter as the five-match winning streak (which could ideally have been a 13-match one but for the washout in Bengaluru against South Africa) came to a halt. India received first real scare in a long time before Kohli came to the rescue in the final innings, chasing 310, to force a draw on the final day.

That performance in Rajkot was eerily similar to the one in Pune against Australia. England outclassed the hosts in almost every department. Their pacers bowled better than their Indian counterparts. The spinners, surprisingly, did likewise. Their batsmen also applied themselves better. The fielding by the hosts was listless with catches dropped. Simply put, India had underperformed.

England coach Trevor Bayliss described it as England's best performance during his tenure while Kohli somehow managed to draw a positive. "Well, at least we know how to draw games now," the Indian captain said.

This was the real test of India's ability to bounce back and what followed was a 246-run win, an eight-wicket win, an innings and 36-run win and an innings and 75-run win.

The comeback demonstrated India's insatiable hunger for success and gave birth to longest unbeaten streak in India's Test history. Ominous signs prevailed as Kohli laid out his ambitions.

"It's just the beginning. It's nothing that we want to achieve, it's not even a tiny bit of that. We understand where we want to go and hopefully the guys can keep putting this kind of effort and take the team where it belongs," Kohli said after the England series.

While India have been on the back foot a few times of late, they didn't face the ignominy of a loss and that too inside three days before the Pune Test. In a brutally honest press-conference Kohli admitted that the loss was a reality check but it wasn't a big deal and then again, there was the mention of the Galle Test for the Nth time.

"It’s fine. It’s just another international game. It’s no big deal," Kohli said in the post-match conference. "It’s how you should stay calm and composed when you win. You shouldn’t get overexcited. The same way you react when you lose, something that you take on the chin. We take failures and losses as an opportunity to learn. And the last time we had a performance like this (in Galle), we had the most outstanding run after that," he added.

After that Galle Test, Kohli had stressed on the mental aspect, especially following India's inability to finish off games after dominating most parts of it.

"Some things are not in your control but there is where mental strength comes," Kohli had said after the Galle loss. "The mental strength aspect in those difficult situations is something that we have touched up on Galle. Guys need to be more brave. It's very easy to go into a negative space very quickly. Teams that stay in a positive or individuals that stay in a positive space in particular situations, they turn the game around and those are match winners," the Indian captain added.

It will be a different feeling as India head into the Bengaluru Test on Saturday. They have now lost the unbeaten streak. They were outplayed and outclassed at their own game. Their technique and performance against the spinners will be pored over in detail. And this is where the mental strength that they have acquired over the years might come to the fore.

"I can assure you that we are going to come back with more intent for sure, and put Australia under pressure straight from ball one," Kohli said after the Pune loss.

After the Galle Test Kohli sounded a warning and what followed was a 19-match unbeaten run. He has fired once again and who knows, this could end up in something more glorious for the Indian team.

Updated Date: Mar 03, 2017 09:01 AM

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