Too close for comfort: Virat Kohli’s India cross the finish line at Adelaide Oval
There were some frustrating moments for Virat Kohli on day five. @AFP

“It’s a great feeling.”

You know who said this, right? A smiling Virat Kohli after India won the first Test at Adelaide Oval by 31 runs to take a 1-0 series’ lead on Australian soil.

There are a couple key takeaways from that last sentence. This was only the sixth time – ever – India have won a Test in Australia. This is the first time they have won the first Test in a series in this country. For a side that is looking to end its overseas cycle in 2018 on a positive note, this was a shot-in-the-arm victory.

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He said something else too. “Four years back it was 48 runs on the other side. This one is way better. 31 on our side.”

He was, of course, referring to the Adelaide Test in 2014, when toying with the Australian attack, he scored twin hundreds. Yet he couldn’t take India past the finishing line. The lasting image from that game – Kohli’s first as Test captain – was when he holed out and bent down to his knees, sheer desperation dripping mixed in his sweat.

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A few of Kohli’s reactions on day five – much before he sat elated in the press conference – were of desperation too. It was seen in the manner he threw the ball on ground, when Pat Cummins was dismissed at first slip. It was anger surely, but at whom, is the real question.

Here are the statistics that matter. 41, 31, 41, 31, 32 – they were Australia’s partnerships for their last five wickets. In comparison, India had put up 34, 21, 0, 0, 4 – a collapse of five wickets for 47 runs.

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There was a certain stage, when Australia breached the 50-required mark on Monday, when things became really uncomfortable for the Indian team. Kohli didn’t admit it as much post victory, underlining that ‘winning or drawing the game’ were their only two considerations when the morning started. It doesn’t work like that.

Virat Kohli lets his emotions out after India win at Adelaide Oval.
Virat Kohli lets his emotions out after India win at Adelaide Oval. @ Twitter

Anyone who witnessed India’s collapse on day four knew that there was too much time left in the Test. So much so that a tie was more possible than a drawn game. What does this highlight? That India failed to kill the game when they had the chance, and their exertions on day five were a result of the same.

Yet, this isn’t about criticising the Indian team in its hour of victory. Instead, it is about underlining what they have achieved, even if there are a few weak points to take care of before the second Test begins. And the answer you are seeking herein is about crossing that finish line, after you have sighted it.

Look back at the South Africa and England tours – India didn’t get close in Cape Town or Centurion. They sighted victory in Birmingham, but fell way short. It was a similar case in Southampton and then at the Oval too. Any victories therein – Johannesburg and Nottingham – came forth from their bowlers’ ability to pick 20 wickets.

This is where two conclusions can be drawn from this first Test at the Adelaide Oval, which the Indian team must take forth as key learning if they are to win a first-ever Test series on Australian soil.

First, their bowling attack has the wherewithal to take 20 wickets at every remaining venue in this series. Be it Perth, Melbourne or Sydney, this four-bowler attack has shown enough mettle to suggest that India will be always in the game when it comes to the red cherry. Furthermore, with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja, all waiting in the wings for their chance, Kohli will never have a paucity of bowling resources come what may.

India's pace bowling gives Virat Kohli plenty of options
India’s pace bowling gives Virat Kohli plenty of options. @AFP

It puts India in an enviable position. Sure, the Australian attack isn’t pedestrian, but in terms of bench strength, it loses out to the Indian bowling unit. Whom does Australia turn to if any one of their three pacers pulls up? For this reason alone, Tim Paine probably will have to disturb his team’s balance and bring in an allrounder, if not to bolster his batting line-up alone.

This is where the second point emanates. India ought to use this bowling advantage and press home. The first Test only went into day five, or even as close as it did, is because the Indian batting failed to make opportunity count – twice.

Kohli won one toss in eight Tests in South Africa and England, and that fried the Indian batting line-up in bowling friendly conditions. On landing in Australia, he won the first toss and they merely put up 250 on board? The second innings’ collapse is not even worth talking about again.

India had two chances to bat Australia out of this first Test and they let them both go. A stronger Australian batting line-up would have punished them for this nonchalance. Perhaps, they would do well to not lose sight of this fact, even in jubilation of their bowlers pulling them across the finish line.