JOHANNESBURG: Six hours after India had clinched a 63-run victory at The Wanderers in Johannesburg, Virat Kohli, the captain, tweeted a picture of the team’s celebrations, with the words: “Proud prouder proudest. Hats off to the whole team for showing character throughout. This day will always be special. Jai hind.”
Moments after the wicket of Lungi Ngidi had prevented a South African clean sweep, Kohli broke away from the on-field euphoria to take an ironic bow in the direction of the home support. Speaking afterwards, he said: “When we came to play this game, we saw banners of “whitewash,” “3-0” and what not. So, it feels really really sweet to have made it 2-1.”
And the siege mentality didn’t end there. When an Indian journalist asked if he and his team sometimes saw their situation as us against them [the rest of the world], Kohli tossed the question back. “I don’t know. Is it?” he asked, before going on to say: “I cannot say if people are now going to start praising our effort. It should not bother us. Because even if we win or lose, you still have to go out there and repeat those things.
“It doesn’t matter what people say about us. Whether they want to say good or bad things, it’s completely up to them. People are doing their jobs as well. And we are doing ours inside the rope. When we are playing inside the rope, there is no one else. There is no influence from the outside. There, we can really express ourselves, and apart from that, nothing else really matters.”
The problem with life in the bubble is that you can sometimes be too close to things to have the right perspective. As chuffed as India should be with their consolation win, they need to address the frailties that cost them at key moments in both Cape Town and Centurion.
Did they start the series with the right opening combination? And was it wise to give precedence to Rohit Sharma’s outstanding home form over Ajinkya Rahane’s proven record away from India? Kohli stood by every big call, including the one to bat first on a spicy Wanderers pitch after picking five seam-bowling options.
“When things don’t go well, we as a team don’t say: ‘Oh, we should have done this’ or ‘We should have done that’. That’s the easiest thing to do. I can say or write anything about anyone but when you’re in there, facing their bowling attack on that sort of a wicket, and then when you decide to bat first, you need to be sure.
“You need to have belief in yourself. We certainly back ourselves as a team and that’s something we have done throughout this tour. Yes, we were disappointed things did not come together in the first two games, but we are really proud of this effort.”
So they should be. But that satisfaction should be tinged with the realization that left-field selections, a swathe of dropped catches and top-order batting meltdowns came between them and a chance to make history.
INDIA’S TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA
Kohli made 286 runs in three matches played in extremely tough batting conditions, 75 more than the next man, AB de Villiers. His 153 at Centurion, the only hundred of the series, may have gone in vain, but his twin hands of 54 and 41 at The Wanderers played a huge part in the Indian victory. On air, Michael Holding compared his batsmanship in trying conditions to Sir Vivian Richards. That wasn’t hyperbole. If Kohli can maintain his focus, he really can operate at that level.
MUST DO BETTER
Before he was dropped for The Wanderers game, Rohit Sharma made 11, 10, 10 and 47. Most of the runs in the last of those knocks came once the Centurion Test had already slipped from India’s grasp. The other three innings were a snapshot of his performances outside India, getting in and then getting out without leaving a dent on the scoreboard. As much as technical tweaks, it’s self-belief of the Kohli variety that Rohit needs to turn things around. Whether he’ll get the opportunity in England this summer is another matter.