How has Virat Kohli changed the Indian team?

How has Virat Kohli changed the Indian team?

It has just been two years, when India lost to Pakistan by 180 runs in the Champions Trophy finals at “The Oval” ground on June 18, 2017.  And two years hence, now, in the 2019 World Cup match, India beat Pakistan by 89 runs at Old Trafford on June 16, 2019.

In that match, Pakistan had scored 338 runs while India folded up for 158 runs in just 30.3 overs.  In the WC match, Indian scored 336 runs and Pakistan could only manage 212 in the truncated 40 overs for 6 wickets.

The revenge was sweet for the Indian team, specifically since the two teams in these matches were similar.

As Kohli matures

Even though the time has been short, but a lot has happened in these two years.  India has chosen to develop itself into a team which believes in pursuing and beating the opposition in a clinical fashion.  They were an aggressive lot in 2017.  They are an efficient team now.  2017 were the early days for Kohli  as a captain and he was trying to fit in so he could lead.  Over the years, things have changed.

Between Dhoni and Kohli, that has been the main difference.  Dhoni just knew how to win.  Kohli works on everything methodically.  His fitness, his percentages, his running, his fielding, his diet, his regimen.  While Dhoni was and is a natural and works hard, Kohli has it down to a science.  That is why you hear him (and others in the team) always refer to their win as “clinical”.  That characterization is deliberate and symptomatic of how the Indian cricket team has changed.

Nothing is now left to mere talent or chance or ability to complete the match with audacious sixes off the last 2 balls.  Don’t get me wrong – those matter.  And, they have a place in the strategy.  But in cases where things just don’t work the way they were planned for the entire innings.

There was a situation in this World Cup’s Pakistan encounter, where after Bhuvaneshwar Kumar had to go out due to hamstring and everyone was waiting to hear what was the report back.  “Will he be able to bowl or not?” was the question.  After all, Bhuvi was bowling really well and the main strike bowler.  Losing your main strike bowler after bowling just 2.4 overs is a blow for any team in a World cup, specifically in a match that is so crucial as an India-Pakistan World Cup match.

Setbacks are factored in

So Mohammad Shami came with a bottle of water for Virat Kohli to give him the diagnosis and apparently told him that Bhuvi will not be able to bowl anymore.  At that time, Kohli’s reaction was phenomenal and very instructive.  He had a normal calm look and gave him a thumbs up and went about his job.  And then between Hardik Pandya and Vijay Shankar, he got what he wanted.  These two bowlers actually took 4 wickets at a fairly good economy rate!  That is what “clinical” looks like.

There are setbacks and bad decisions in any match.  The idea is to not let them impact the team or the tempo.  In this game for example, apart from Bhuvaneshwar’s injury, there were many other needless issues.

  1. Of course, Virat lost the toss
  2. Shikhar Dhawan, the centurion from the past match and a settled opener in great form was injured as well and not playing.
  3. Rohit played the most stupid of shots even when he was playing a phenomenal innings
  4. Virat Kohli walked off the wicket even when he had not played the ball – for a caught behind, and even when the umpire had not given him out!
  5. Finally, Indians missed the review for Babar Azam for his lbw, where he was out.

Any one of these 6 situations (incl Bhuvi of course) can derail any team.  But not Kohli’s India team.  They were…. well, Clinical.

It is not that this team has not lost matches.  It has.  Some of them were rather ignominious.  Specifically the ones in India, where the team was defeated in 3 matches by Australia after winning 2 initial matches.  However, the way India played a much stronger Aussie team (even with Mitchell Starc, Steve Smith and David Warner, those who were missing in India) in the World Cup showed that deep research went into the strengths and weaknesses of the Australian team.  The team learned from its mistakes.  That is what a team that wants to have ‘clinical ways’ does.

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