Virat Kohli scored centuries in both innings of the Adelaide Test © Getty Images
Virat Kohli scored centuries in both innings of the Adelaide Test © Getty Images

Set to chase 364 on the final day at Adelaide Oval, India managed to put them in a winning position in a fashion only then can, and lost it from there in a way that only they can. Abhishek Mukherjee lauds the new Indian captain and his attitude towards the sport.

Shikhar Dhawan got a poor decision. He may be retained. He may make way for young KL Rahul at The Gabba. It is too early to comment on that. Cheteshwar Pujara was doing fine till he made an error of judgement. India were 57 for two at this stage. They needed 307 at 3.90 runs an over. The pitch was deteriorating. Nathan Lyon was looking good. And that demon, Mitchell Johnson, was lurking around the corner.

 

Rusi Modi, Vijay Hazare, and Dattu Phadkar had almost pulled off a miraculous chase against West Indies at Brabourne Stadium in 1948-49. Sunil Gavaskar had marshalled at least two brave chases — in the tied Test at Chepauk and in the 1979 Test at Oval. But Murali Vijay, despite his improvement in technique and temperament, despite his gritty mindset, was no Gavaskar. There have been other similar chases that threatened to beat the clock, but none of late.

 

Indian captains have generally been defensive. Gavaskar himself had reduced cricket to a yawnathon in the home series against England in 1981-82 and 1984-85. Kapil Dev’s men had mysteriously ignored weather alerts and refused to chase at MCG in 1985-86 (they scored 59 for two in 25 overs chasing 126; Gavaskar crawled to a 54-ball eight). Up against 374 on a flat Motera track against an inexperienced English attack, Sourav Ganguly’s men did not go for 374 in over a day. And MS Dhoni agreed to call it a halt when India needed 86 from 15 overs with seven wickets in hand at Roseau.

 

But this 26-year-old is different. In the post-match interview with Star Sports he told Rahul Dravid that he did not consider draw as an option while chasing. Even after the curious dismissal of Wriddhiman Saha he had his eyes on the victory; all he wanted was Karn Sharma to stay there. Then he holed out to deep mid-wicket himself.

 

The onus was on Kohli. He was the decision-maker. He could have shut the shutters once Vijay had fallen; or after Ajinkya Rahane was erroneously given out; or even after Rohit Sharma had fallen. He did not restrain himself, or more interestingly, did not try to stop Saha.

 

Was Saha taking risks under instructions? We do not know. Yet. I would love to think he was. I was in love to think that since Kohli wanted to be there till the end, he wanted his wicketkeeper to put Lyon out of the attack and reduce the asking rate. Most captains would have asked Saha to hold one end up. Kohli did not stop him.

 

He was going for the kill. Saha perished. Harsha Bhogle commented on air that Saha “lived by the sword, perished by the sword”. He could have said the same for Kohli. Here was a man who does not think of drawing Tests. Even after Saha’s dismissal he kept the torch alight, looking for runs before mistiming a pull off Lyon.

 

India ended up losing the Test. In the end they lost with more than ten overs to spare. They could have drawn the Test, after being 242 for two. Other Indian captains would probably have. A Ganguly, a Dravid, or a Dhoni would probably have shaken hands with Michael Clarke  with a hundred runs to score from ten overs and six wickets in hand.

 

Critics would say Kohli committed hara-kiri and would probably ask for the cool-headed Dhoni to take up the mantle (and the gauntlets from Saha). But — what if, what if — the risk had come off? What if Saha connected that one and managed to hit Lyon out of the attack? What if the pull went to where it was intended to — to the right of Mitchell Marsh?

 

India did not commit blunders at Adelaide Oval: they took a risk that could have gone either way; it is just that it did not come off. It could have come off on another day. The plan was correct. The execution fell short.

 

Nobody wants to lose their debut Test as captain, especially after you score two outstanding hundreds. Kohli took that risk. He wanted to win, simply because the alternative did not occur to him.

 

Don Bradman would have agreed. His men had chased down 404 at Headingley in style. He had masterminded the chase himself. Over a decade later Australia needed 124 against West Indies in 120 minutes after tea. The Don had dropped in to the dressing-room and approached Richie Benaud.

Bradman: What is it going to be?

Benaud: Well, we’re going for a win.

Bradman: I’m very pleased to hear it.

 

He would have been happy, as would have been Benaud; and Garry Sobers, who is often ridiculed for setting England 215 in 165 minutes and getting his bowlers send down 21 overs an hour; and Steve Waugh and Stephen Fleming, both of whom made extremely bold declarations on Day Five at The Gabba in 2001-02 that resulted in a tightly contested draw; or Graeme Smith, who had set Australia a steep 288 at Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) but the hosts chased it down, batting at 4.76 an over.

 

Kohli has lost his first Test as captain, but there will be many more to come. He may be the ambassador Test cricket needs in an era when the lack of enthusiasm of fans has made the purest and most fascinating version of the sport lose its sheen.

 

Critics may be shouting at Kohli today, but let us be honest to ourselves: how many had thought India would win at Adelaide? Was it not Kohli’s approach that gave India a whiff? Why criticise, then? It has not come off once. It will come off the next time. Or the next. Just give the man some time.

 

To quote Ravi Shastri, thanks to Kohli, “in the end, cricket was the winner.”

 

 (Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)