On Wednesday night at the Premadasa, India became the first team in the history of bilateral cricket to secure a complete whitewash across three formats on foreign soil. The historic feat achieved, the Indian players left Sri Lankan shores on an early morning flight on Thursday.
It had been a long series that commenced with a tour game on July 21. Over the next couple of months, the hosts were steamrolled by Virat Kohli’s mean machine – 3-0 in Tests, 5-0 in ODIs and 1-0 in a one-off T20 International. A Sri Lankan team in transition and turmoil proved to be lightweight in all departments. Still the way India played – the clinical and ruthless execution of skill – they left with their reputation enhanced, so much so that Sri Lanka coach Nic Pothas compared the visitors with the All Blacks, the iconic New Zealand rugby team.
Pothas is a South African who watched the All Blacks at close quarters in the 1995 Rugby World Cup that his country hosted. New Zealand lost the final to South Africa but Jonah Lomu’s All Blacks had created an aura. From that point of view, Pothas drawing an analogy between the All Blacks and Kohli’s India was significant. But we would come to that later.
India’s performance, the brand of cricket they played, and Kohli in particular, struck a chord even with Aravinda de Silva. “I really enjoyed watching him (Kohli) and his team. All good players want to dictate terms and his greatness is to be able to do that with a lot of control. The ability to adjust to situations is one of the most important aspects of his batting. His arrogance and confidence I admire most,” said the World Cup winner and Sri Lankan batting legend, speaking to The Indian Express.
Kohli returned with three centuries from the tour – one in Tests and two in ODIs. He missed one in the one-off T20. But the Indian team was never only about its leader. Seven players finished the Test series with a 50-plus batting average. Shikhar Dhawan with two centuries in Tests, and another in the ODIs, was imperious.
Cheteshwar Pujara stood like a brick wall at No. 3 in Tests, scoring two hundreds. Ajinkya Rahane returned to form with a century at the SSC. KL Rahul seamlessly fitted into the opening slot, returning from a long injury lay-off. R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja shared 30 wickets between them in three Tests.
Their replacements in the limited-overs formats, Axar Patel and Yuzvendra Chahal, and also Kuldeep Yadav, chipped in brilliantly. Jasprit Bumrah became the first seamer to take 15 scalps in a five-match bilateral ODI series. Rohit Sharma hit back-to-back tons and MS Dhoni remained unbeaten in the whole limited-overs leg of the tour, playing a couple of match-winning knocks. The positives roll on. But as India head coach Ravi Shastri told this paper a few days back, “we are enamoured with the word overseas”; Kohli’s team would be judged next year, when they tour South Africa and England.
Three years ago in England, Kohli could manage only 134 runs in five Tests at an average of 13.40. De Silva refused to read too much into that. “He has already done enough. It’s just a matter of time that Kohli will score runs in England.” Foreign tours, however, are for the future. Over the past 14-odd months, India has won 15 Tests and lost one. They have annexed four bilateral ODI series on the bounce, while reaching the Champions Trophy final. Such consistency, irrespective of conditions and opponents, commands respect. Little wonder then that Pothas drew the All Blacks comparison.
“When you look at the way they (India) go about their work and the culture that Virat has created within that team, it’s very, very impressive. I’m sure it’s a great compliment to him, but it’s a fact. You look at their team and they are very All Blacks-like. There’s a lot of respect for the facilities, there’s a lot of respect for the opposition. They are very ruthless in the way they go about their work. Their work ethic is immense. They are what a lot of teams aspire to be,” the Sri Lanka coach said after the T20 game on Wednesday.
He wanted his boys to learn from the Indians. Yes, Sri Lanka, at times, had been abysmal on the field and a little more competition was expected. But India allowed the hosts very little room to compete. As Pothas mentioned, it was a fight between a side “that is developing” and a team “that is complete”. India’s dominance was expected. The command was eye-catching.
“You have got to look at the quality they (India) have in that side. It’s a side with immense quality. It’s always going to be tough to compete against them, or to try and beat them. We just, maybe, needed to compete a little bit more. I think it would be wrong of us not to learn off them. They do so many things very well. Most of them are just basics. You see how Virat runs between the wickets. You see the respect he commands on the field as a leader. He is a role model to people and he pulls people with him,” Pothas eulogised.
De Silva agreed, lauding the India captain’s aggression.