Thanks to the Kohli brand of ruthlessness, this Indian team is like no other

Anand Sachar

“Zip it”

That signal was part of Virat Kohli’s celebration routine. He had raced in all directions, with his arms outstretched and let out war cries to remind the world of his Indian team’s triumph on Tuesday in the second Test in Bengaluru. Amidst the loud intimation of victory at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, he had signalled the defeated Australians to be quiet.

Sledging has been a part of the Australian psyche. It has been a part of their game. They have derived sadistic joy in the mental disintegration of the opponents.

When the Australians landed in India, most people did not give them much of a chance to compete against an India side that has been nearly invincible at home. So, they took one potshot here, and another there, in the press conferences leading up to the first Test.

After they stunned the cricket world to hand India their first home Test defeat in the last couple of years, they turned chirpier on the field.

Australia’s chirping started early

Once India were blown away for an unimpressive 189 in the first innings of the second Test, the Australians reminded the Indians of another poor performance in the press conference at the end of Day 1. Nathan Lyon had sent eight Indian batsmen back to the hut. He would later try to deflate the confidence of the hosts.

“But he is the head of the snake, to put it in Dale Steyn’s terms, and if you can take that, the body will fall away. It was pretty pleasing to take Virat’s wicket,” Lyon mocked the strength of the Indian batting unit.

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Australia even knocked off the “snake’s head” for a second time as Kohli registered his forth flop of the series. Steve Smith and his men would have believed that all the words fired after the day’s play on the first day had worked wonders.

But, little did Australia know, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane would script India’s comeback with the bat. Worse still, it was India’s turn to chirp away on the field as Australia collapsed in pursuit of a measly 188.

‘The snake can sting from a lot of directions’

Poetic justice was delivered when Kohli, after the hard-fought victory, had the opportunity to remind Australia of how potent the “snake” could be.

“A lot of people were talking about the head of the snake, but I think the snake did pretty well by itself, so it’s not just about one individual. I’m pretty happy if they keep focusing on the head of the snake, and the snake can sting from a lot of directions. I think some people need to keep that in mind, but I thought [this was] the sweetest victory for us,” said the Indian captain, rubbing it in.

Kohli had had the last say in the battle of the press conferences. He had silenced the Australians. Yet, the victory was earned when the Indians fought fire with a more threatening fire. The tourists smirked, the hosts stared. The Australians sledged, the Indians sledged back harder. This was against Australian psyche. It was against their history. And, it ruffled them.

Hit back and even harder

This was Virat Kohli’s India. It was away from the cool and calm India that MS Dhoni had developed. It was closer to Sourav Ganguly’s India that kept Steve Waugh waiting at the toss in 2001 or Anil Kumble’s India that stood united in the face of the 2008 controversies. Kohli’s team defined aggression. It reminded the Australians that they cannot visit India and walk over their team. They reminded Australia that it is no more a good idea to provoke India.

Lyon did so after play on Day 1. Smith did so during play on Day 4. The Australian captain hoped for help from the pavilion before he could decide whether he must review the umpire’s call that had ruled him out leg-before. It was against the laws. It did not fit in the spirit of the game’s bracket either.

Kohli quit his celebrations midway and stormed toward Smith and his partner, Peter Handscomb, who had turned towards the dressing room for answers. Fortunately, umpire Nigel Llong got to the batsmen before Kohli, and barred them from any assistance from the pavilion. That may have prevented the Indian captain’s complete outburst on the field, but it will not stop him from reminding Smith of the incident over the next two Tests at least.

Kohli’s fury was palpable even after his team had triumphed. After all, it was no more a good idea to provoke India. Smith had claimed it to be a “brain-fade” moment. His Indian counterpart stopped short of calling him a cheat.

India may have won the battle in Bangalore, but the skirmish had been sparked off in Pune. Australia had first provoked India and awakened them when they drew first blood on the tour.

Dripping aggression

Kohli’s India, like him, are aggressive. This is definitely not the meek India of the yesteryears, who would be the cordial hosts. Kohli’s India is hostile. Every time they are pushed to a corner, the aggression raises its head.

When India were under the pump in Pune, Ravindra Jadeja performed a quick jig to imitate Smith’s antsy stance.

Ishant Sharma mimicked Smith in Bangalore with funny faces. Kohli chuckled in the cordon behind Smith. Every Indian fan present in the stadium, and those watching on TV, chuckled along. The Australian skipper may have smiled back, but India had played with his mind. Smith had won Australia the Pune Test. But, unsurprisingly, he suffered two failures as Australia crash landed in Bangalore.

The visiting captain was under attack. But, he was not the only one. The 20-year-old Matt Renshaw on his first tour for the country was not spared either. The left-handed opener had to leave the field to go visit the toilet because of a stomach bug. The mid-innings sprint to the toilet is what Kohli and his boys reminded Renshaw of in Bangalore.

But, the aggression was not only about taking the opposition players down. It was also about the participation of the otherwise mellow players.

Cheteshwar Pujara is India’s rock at number three. It would, however, come as a surprise to even see him raise his voice. But in Bangalore, Pujara sledged. And, he took on the mighty David Warner.

“Well, see, they were talking a lot and probably sledging is something which, as a unit, we felt that we can give them back. They were always under pressure when they walked in to bat, and I wanted to make sure their batsmen were thinking about it, especially David Warner. Whenever he walks in to bat, Ash [Ashwin] is always happy, so I always keep reminding him that Ash is the one who picks [up his wicket],”Pujara revealed to Bcci.tv.

Similarly, Ashwin is an intelligent off-spinner, who would rather let his ball do the talking. But, after Mitchell Starc had given Abhinav Mukund a send-off, the all-rounder decided to return the favour in the second innings.

Starc had pointed to his forehead after destroying Abhinav’s stumps. After he had disturbed Starc’s stumps, Ashwin pointed to his forehead too. “I saw yesterday, Abhi [Mukund] pulled Mitchell Starc for a six, he top-edged it for six. But yes, I don’t think he was in any sort of hurry when he pulled that ball, and Mitchell Starc suggested that he would hit him on the helmet. I don’t know, people generally have the habit of saying I’ll hit you back on the helmet at Gabba. It doesn’t matter, this is Bangalore, so I thought I must tell him that he got hit off me, in the first innings, on the helmet,” he later elaborated on bcci.tv.

Australia have never seen anything like this

It was clear that the Indians would play as a unit, sledge as a unit. They are carrying out the mental disintegration of Australia, like the men from Down Under did to the world of cricket for years. It has surprised the visitors, who succumbed to the pressure and allow India to level the series.

When Australia had surged ahead in the second Test too, their former players had found their voice. Like they usually do to support the team from the outside. Ian Healy claimed to have lost respect for Kohli, whereas Mathew Hayden believed that the Australians had entered the Indian captain’s head.

By the time the sun set in Bangalore on Tuesday, Kohli had rubbished Healy’s remarks and shown Hayden that it was his team that had, instead, entered in the heads of the Australians.

In Kohli, they have a leader who has not only his team at his disposal, but also the whole of India. In the first innings, he asked the crowd to turn the volume on. The crowd responded, and India sent Mitchell Marsh back. In the second innings, Kohli repeated the drill.

The crowd obliged, and India packed off Mathew Wade and the Australian hopes. Aware of how the crowd was playing the perfect 12th man, Kohli did not rush to his team to celebrate Wade’s fall. But, he ran towards the deep cover boundary to roar along with the people of Bangalore. Over the course of the four days, the M Chinnaswamy was India’s ring and Kohli its master.

The victory was not quite Kolkata 2001. But, Bangalore 2017 was historic too. Because India had come from miles behind to dismantle Australia. But also because, it was a game that showed the world that if this new breed of Indian cricketers does not get you with their performances on the field, they will, with their ruthlessness on it.