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India's new obsession to win away from home

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Roar Rookie
2nd January, 2019
2

An Indian victory was all but inevitable on the fifth day of the Boxing Day Test.

Despite intermittent rain and the first session being washed out, it took just 27 deliveries for India to emerge victorious, retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and lead the series 2-1.

The iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground is now India’s most successful Australian Test venue, having secured their third win and the first at the historic ground since 1981.

For India and for Virat Kohli, though, the mission is far from over. “We’re not going to stop here,” Kohli vowed post-match. “The job is not done. It’s not finished at all.”

In the past, Indian sides have faltered when pressing for the kill. This Kohli-led Indian side, at least so far in this series, have matched their words with actions.

India rose to the No.1 ranking in Test cricket playing with near invincibility in home conditions on the back of ten consecutive home series wins.

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But historically India have been poor travellers, enduring series after series of losses, many of them heavily one-sided. In 70 years of touring Australia the Indian team have never managed to win a Test series, losing on all 11 previous occasions.

Conditions away from home were often alien and vastly different. Pitches were bouncier and seamed more. Indian batting techniques, which relied more on hand-eye coordination than footwork, were brutally exposed. India’s pacers lacked pace and were stable at best and spinners unable to get the purchase they thrive on in home conditions and so were largely ineffective.

For many Indian sides in the past, getting through the series rather than winning it was the realistic objective. Thus the side was defeated even before a single ball was bowled.

Past Indian teams to Australia were seen as meek, subservient and even polite. Not this Indian team. Not Virat Kohli. They want to create a legacy for themselves and no longer be seen as kings at home and paupers away. This Indian side means business and look to live up to their multimillion-dollar reputation. On the field we see the passion and a side that is content from being away from home.

Virat Kohli celebrates taking a wicket.

(Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

For India to reverse the historical truth of being poor travellers, the attitude and belief in players needed a wholesale change.

“If you have to or want to win a series away from home, it has to be an obsession,” Kohli said.

Once it becomes an obsession to win, the player finds a way to make things work. Adjusting lengths when bowling, assessing conditions early, curbing down a natural inclination to attack when batting – these are some of the many changes required when playing overseas.

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But this obsession to win away for India was not always the case. In 201 Test matches to date overseas India have won only 29 matches in Australia, England, South Africa, New Zealand and the West Indies. If you exclude the four victories in the West Indies in the last 12 years, when their powers have considerably diminished, India has only 25 victories. That puts this series lead in perspective and also highlights its importance.

India’s fast bowlers, traditionally a liability, have been supreme over the course of 2018 in foreign conditions. They ended 2018 with 179 wickets; they’ve never taken more wickets in a calendar year.

In the Boxing Day Test match India found a way to defeat Australia at their own game, and decisively so. Cricviz reveals that India’s fast bowlers were able to get more swing (0.61 degrees vs 0.51) and seam (0.68 degrees vs 0.56) than Australia.

They also bowled in better areas (almost 42 per cent of deliveries on good length vs less than 35 per cent for Australia) and also attacked the stumps more often than their Australian counterparts.

The average speeds of the Indian bowlers were also impressive, with Jasprit Bumrah regularly clocking over 145 kilometres per hour and neck-and-neck with the Australian quicks.

India's Cheteshwar Pujara

(AP Photo/James Elsby)

Critically, their plans against Australia’s top order batsmen were extremely well executed and the home side’s batting woes were exposed in clinical fashion.

“It is a combination of a lot of work, identifying what it requires to be bowling fast over a period of time. The strength-conditioning coach Shankar Basu and physio have played a major role in making these fast bowlers,” said Bharat Arun, India’s bowling coach.

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India are also a lot fitter, and this is inspired by their fearless skipper Virat Kohli, who has transformed himself over the last few years. Kohli follows a strict fitness and dietary regime that has helped him generate more explosive power, concentrate for longer periods and lead his team in setting the benchmark for fitness standards.

This has certainly rubbed off on his fast bowlers as well, who are now able to generate sustained pressure on their opponents for longer periods.

Coach Ravi Shastri warned ahead of the series that his side will “take no prisoners” and won’t be taking a backward step.

India’s quest to win a Test series in Australia is not dissimilar to the home country’s quest to win in India, a country famously described by Steve Waugh as the “final frontier.”

The hard work India has put in this year cannot be doubted. But wins in Johannesburg and Nottingham were offset by series losses in South Africa and England, with the team failing at critical junctures. India’s batting, traditionally a strength, let them down on those occasions even as the bowlers stood tall. Despite the failures on those tours, the belief remained.

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“We always believed that this (win) is very possible because of the talent we have in the side and the mindset that we have been carrying for the last twelve months regardless of what has been said, regardless of the mistakes we have made. Our mindset never shifted once,” said a resolute Kohli.

Going into the New Year’s Test in Sydney, Virat’s side will believe they now have their best chance to win a Test series in Australia.

“Nothing is going to distract us from winning that last Test.”

It’s that obsession and focus to win away from home that fuels this Indian side forward.