In the fourth (and seemingly final) Test between England and India this summer, India overcame a first innings deficit of 99 to beat the home side by 157 runs. The Indian bowling attack of Bumrah, Siraj, and Jadeja made light work of an English batting lineup which had appeared solid in the first innings at The Oval.
The victory was inspired by destructive bowling from India, and lackluster batting from the English middle order. Ollie Pope, Johnny Bairstow, and Moeen Ali scored a combined second innings total of two runs at a time where the result was very much in the balance.
A vital driver of the dominant Indian performance was the leadership of Captain Virat Kohli. It is often said that a team imitates its leader, and Virat Kohli is a serial winner.
Accompanying Kohli’s obvious talent with the bat and as a captain is a tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve, a trait reflected by other members of the Indian team.
Indian bowlers have had a number of altercations with England, demonstrating the nasty, winning edge which Kohli has instilled in his side.
Kohli’s passion for cricket and for his team has landed him in trouble with fans of the game, who call his actions in the fourth Test classless and not in keeping with the culture that has been cultivated in test cricket for centuries.
Following the wickets of both Haseeb Hameed and Johnny Bairstow, Kohli celebrated by mimicking the trumpets played by the English ‘Barmy army’ with his hands. The gesture, aimed at the crowd, showed the England fans who was truly on top of the test match.
The antics of Virat Kohli are, for better or for worse, what make him one of the best test captains in the world. Nasser Husain once said in commentary: “If you want to know about where the match is heading as far as India are concerned then have a look at Virat Kohli’s expression in the field.” In this case, Kohli’s triumphant trumpeting signified his side’s belief that they could take the ten wickets required for an away victory.
Kohli, as a seasoned professional, has a great understanding of the psychology of a five-day test match. He was able to produce the best from an extremely talented team when it really mattered. India recovered from a poor start to create the impression that they were really the only team that could have ever won the series.
The controversy regarding celebrations similar to Kohli’s seldom exists in other sports. Footballers are often praised for silencing crowds by hushing them during celebrations, removing the intimidation of a home crowd from the game.
Rugby players clap and celebrate penalties at scrums to let the other team know that they are on top in the match. Why should cricketing celebrations be seen in a different light?
The majority of the criticism calling Kohli unsporting or classless understandably comes from English fans. However, it is difficult to justly criticise a team having just suffered a thrashing. The issue is not one of bad winners but of sore losers.
If there is to be criticism of the fourth test, it should be aimed at the England side.
The opening innings showed a glorious carry-over from the third test, but it seems that England did not have the mental stamina to maintain the intensity and level of performance from day one to day five.
Contrastingly to the English team, India, and captain Kohli, had a firm grasp on psychological tactics, and in a grueling five days of cricket, psychology can often be as important as skill.
What Kohli demonstrated was not a lack of sportsmanship, but instead a masterclass in test match captaincy. His side was out of it, and he knew it, but of course, would never show it. Kohli’s actions did not break any laws of the game but inspired his teammates and clearly demoralised the English middle order.
Kohli would have looked ridiculous had his team suffered a loss in the deciding test of the series, but you get the sense from his actions that the Indian side could only win. Kohli’s actions encapsulate the importance of mentality at the highest level of sport, a mentality that the English side was seemingly lacking on day five of the test at the oval.
Image: James Cullen via flickr