Virat Kohli, the India captain, put over the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup as the pinnacle of the sport, but placed India’s Test series victory in Australia on the same pedestal as their triumph in the 2011 edition of the flagship tournament.
Kohli’s India registered the country's first-ever Test series win in Australia, when they famously edged out the hosts 2-1 earlier this year. It was India's maiden triumph in 12 attempts.
“I would put the win in Australia at par with the World Cup,” Kohli told the Times of India. “Look, you cannot place a World Cup win below anything else. It is a global tournament, and the significance and the charm of the tournament is something else. It is always going to be the most important tournament in world cricket. But if you look at the challenges that Test cricket brings, if you look at the fact that we had never ever done something like this in Australia before, then this becomes supremely significant too.”
VIrat Kohli led the first Indian team to register a series win in Australia- (Getty Images for ICC)
Kohli will lead an Indian team that is arguably one of the strongest contenders for the title at the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019. India are the No.2-ranked ODI side in the world, and have among the most well-rounded outfits in the tournament, alongside the hosts England. According to Ravi Shastri, the coach, the partnership between himself and the captain has been one of the reasons behind that success.
“The hallmark of any successful team, or a great team, is the relationship between the captain, coach and the support system working around it,” he said. “It becomes extremely important, because when two individuals are on the same page - and luckily, Virat and me are pretty similar in the way we think, aggressive in the way we think - that's the time when you got to take your chances. That's precisely what we've tried to do over the last three-four years and the performances speak across all formats. It holds us in good stead for the World Cup too.”
Kohli has himself been at the forefront of India’s transformation into a world-beating unit. He is currently the top-ranked batsman in both Tests and ODIs, and has been a relentless run-scorer for the team across formats.
Virat Kohli began his transformation into a batsman who could score big Test hundreds during the 2014-15 tour of Australia- (Getty Images for ICC)
That vein of form has run alongside exponential gains on the fitness front, and Shastri said that the transformation began four years ago, when India last toured Australia. “When he got those four hundreds, you could see a sudden desire in him to strive for absolute perfection, without cutting any corners. The idea was simple: there was going to be no room for excuses, nothing at all.
“You could see him telling himself out there, ‘I want to be the best in the world. But for me to be the best in the world across all formats, I have to do this, no compromise. If it means I have to be the fittest, if I have to sacrifice certain things, I'll do it.’ That's how he set himself on the path. And over the course of time, I think that rubbed off on the rest of the team.”
In no department has that effect been felt more than in the bowling. India now boast perhaps their most potent attack in all formats. While Bhuvneshwar Kumar is a master of swing bowling, Jasprit Bumrah is unerringly accurate, and wrist-spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal are strike weapons. Three of those bowlers - Bumrah, Chahal and Kuldeep - are also among the top ten bowlers in the format, with Bumrah holding the top spot.
You cannot place a World Cup win below anything else. It is a global tournament, and the significance and the charm of the tournament is something else.
Kohli is now set to captain at the World Cup for the first time, but he will also have some reliable sounding boards for making important decisions. “MS Dhoni is among the smartest guys in the game. Behind the stumps, he's priceless. It gives me the freedom to do my thing,” he said. “Someone like MS is around with a wealth of experience and we're richer with it.
“MS and Rohit - the way they've gone about with their respective roles as captains [in the IPL] speaks volumes of what they bring to the table. MS, in particular, has a legacy. So it augurs well for this team to have both of them in a leadership role. That's why the team management decided to have a strategy pool in place, which MS and Rohit are a part of, along with us.”
Content: ICC, Images: Getty for ICC