India currently hold a commanding lead in the World Test Championship standings and are on a roll with seven consecutive Test match victories, the last four by an innings. They are also coming off an ODI series victory over Australia and six consecutive T20I wins, including two consecutive pulsating Super Over thrillers against New Zealand. In other words, winning has become a habit for them.
As their captain in all three international formats, the versatile Virat Kohli deserves a lot of credit for creating this winning mentality. When a captain leads a side successfully on a regular basis, especially by occasionally plucking victory from the jaws of defeat, the team begin to believe he is a miracle worker. Kohli has earned the respect of the team as an inspiring leader and they expect good things to happen with him in charge.
When he first became captain, especially of the Test team, I thought his highly emotional temperament might be detrimental to his leadership. Instead, he has ensured his emotions work for him and not against the team. This is in line with his clear-thinking approach to the game. To hear Kohli talk about batting, and particularly his rationale for eschewing the innovative short-form shots (he doesn’t want them to corrupt his Test-match style), is to listen to a master who comprehends his craft.
As a captain, Kohli has led the way in many aspects of the game in addition to his incredible batting feats. His fitness, and insistence on high fielding standards, have resulted in India being a much improved side in both these aspects of the game.
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The fact that he has “finished off” so many of India’s victory opportunities has been an inspiration to other players to adopt a similar mentality. Rohit Sharma, in particular, has benefited from Kohli’s example, and his two sixes in the first Super Over win against New Zealand this week were a classic example of how self-belief has spread through the team.
Another feature of India’s cricket under Kohli has been their consistency. Despite many changes to personnel in the three formats, they continue to win regularly. They have become a far more versatile side under Kohli and this has resulted in better overseas performances.
There is also greater depth now in Indian cricket, and this applies to the fast-bowling stocks as well as the traditionally strong areas of batting and spin bowling. There are signs that young batsmen like KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer are maturing quickly, and this is not surprising, given when regularly see the high standards Kohli sets.
It’s not just the batsmen who have benefited from Kohli’s leadership. While Jasprit Bumrah was an outstanding bowler from the time he arrived on the international scene, fast bowlers like Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav have all blossomed from having the confidence of their captain.
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Likewise the spinners, while they have to battle for a place in the various teams, all perform their role when they do play. The two wristspinners, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, have relished the faith placed in them as wicket-takers. Even Ravindra Jadeja has become a more versatile bowler, which, with his excellent fielding and confident batting makes him a great addition in any format.
India now face the challenge of a tough Test series in New Zealand, where the home side are a hard team to beat. Nevertheless, Australia unearthed a few vulnerabilities in the New Zealand team that India too can exploit.
India’s pace attack has the ability to rattle the New Zealand batsmen, just as the Australians did, and India have more spin options. India’s batting is deeper than Australia’s, and I’ll be surprised if Kohli and Rohit Sharma don’t take a positive approach to Neil Wagner’s short-pitched bowling.
If Kohli can inspire Hardik Pandya to unleash his full potential, and Pandya remains fit, India will be an extremely well rounded team. A side that will feel confident of victory whenever they take the field.