Biggest positive from England series: Kohli's India just wants to keep winning
The calm in Virat Kohli's voice when he fielded questions from the media at the conclusion of the five-Test series against England belied the fact that his team had just whipped the visiting side by an innings and more runs again.
He was perhaps reserving his celebratory tone for the lads in the dressing room, who had made the 4-0 verdict possible.
Yet, in case anyone had missed it over the past few weeks, he lost no time in training the spotlight on the brand of cricket his team plays. Indeed, that was the biggest gain emerging from the series that saw some attritional battles. The expectations from the world's No.1 Test side are growing, and Kohli has ensured that his team continues to walk the talk.
Coming off a humiliating Test loss in Bangladesh, England had their moments in the opening Test in Rajkot, but Kohli played what - to my mind - was the most decisive innings of the series, an unbeaten 49 that stood between India and defeat.
Soaking up the pressure
It was not as if England did not have chances in the other Tests, but they just did not have bandwidth to drive home any advantage they would gain.
Few teams will have scored 400-run totals after winning the toss and batting first, and then gone on to lose two successive Tests by margins of an innings and more. India's batsmen first soaked in the pressure and then posted big scores to let their bowlers tighten the screws on England, exposing the visiting batsmen's propensity to quickly slide into an abyss.
Even then, India needed to work hard and show determination to make the dice roll in their favour. To have lost four of the five tosses and then be winning three of those Tests was an assertive statement of character by the Indian team. To relentlessly push for victory even on the final day of the series when it appeared that England could salvage a draw is a great advertisement for the team.
The kind of positive cricket Kohli's side plays - with a vision, a desire to win - has ensured that more than a few fans turned up at the Tests. More significantly, the arrival of cricketers who lose no time in buying into this philosophy, stitched together by the wonderful combination of Kohli and coach Anil Kumble, augurs well for Indian cricket.
Flies in the ointment
It would be wrong to overlook the shortcomings apparent in the series - India's close-in catching was not up to scratch, and Parthiv Patel's skills behind the stumps were not in the same class as his batsmanship.
Until Karun Nair's unbeaten 303 in the final Test, the contributions from the No.5 position in India's batting order were, at best, moderate, something that India could ill afford against more competitive units in more challenging conditions.
Besides, the number of players who pulled up injured during the series, including wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha, and the fading of leg-spinner Amit Mishra was a matter of concern, too.
Youth rises to the occasion
It is just as well that this was papered over quite nicely by the success that R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja had in sharing 54 wickets, as well as the arrival of Jayant Yadav as a competitive cricketer of much utility.
Along with another rookie, Nair, Yadav offered some great memories for cricket fans to cherish. Their stints with India 'A', where Rahul Dravid's influence as coach is quite palpable, have helped them hold their own at the highest level to such an extent that skipper Kohli was genuinely pleased by their match-readiness.
That the newcomers did not appear to be out of place was one of the biggest gains of the series. The Board of Control for Cricket in India - in whatever shape and form the Supreme Court beats it into in the first week of the New Year - should continue to support the 'A' tours and groom the Twenty20 generation in the art of playing long-form cricket with eagerness, skill and passion.
The likes of opener KL Rahul, stand-in wicket-keeper Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma, not to mention Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav, also have the opportunity to look back and see small but significant contributions to the team. A half-century here or a century there, a wicket here or another there made them integral to India's success.
Established players pull their weight
To top that, the established names in the squad pulled their weight. Opener M Vijay, one-drop batsman Cheteshwar Pujara, all-rounders Jadeja and Ashwin as well as skipper Kohli were the collective hubs around which the team revolved. That each of these men takes pride in the others' performances and success indicates the happy space that the dressing room is.
The stats tell their own tale: Kohli led the way with 655 runs including two centuries, Pujara came up with 401 runs to continue his progress as a more positive batsman at one-drop than he was till the tour of the West Indies. Vijay was the third Indian batsman with two hundreds in the series, Ashwin had 28 wickets and 306 runs, while Jadeja finished with 224 runs and 26 wickets.
Yes, with impactful performers and heavyweight performances to cherish, the Indian squad can disperse for the year-end break with a festive spirit.
In a series that had started under dark, threatening clouds in the wake of the Supreme Court's stern approach to the BCCI administration, the cricketers ensured that the celebrations were hard-earned and well-deserved.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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