Not more than an hour had passed since India had secured their first Test series win under his captaincy, when Virat Kohli showed up at the dressing-room balcony, took his T-shirt off and stood bare-chested. And no, he did not twirl it around. He simply tossed it towards the big crowd of groundstaff who had gathered below, and flashed a wide and satisfied smile. Soon, a number of Indian players would follow the precedent set by their captain and give away souvenirs of their historic triumph — jerseys, shoes and caps — much to the delight of the locals.
The celebrations themselves had been rather subdued, not the kind you expect from a bunch of young men who had given their all over an arduous three-week period and overcome many odds.
After all, few teams had come back from a 0-1 deficit to win a Test series, and that too on foreign soil. Tuesday’s 117-run win helped India win a series in Sri Lanka after 22 years. It was also their first on foreign soil since 2011.
Moreover, few Indian teams had won a series away from home in such a convincing fashion. This was but a bunch of young men led by a very inexperienced captain and still very much finding their feet in the unforgiving Test arena.
Not to forget bogged down by the achievements by their high-profile predecessors. But against all odds, they had created their own niche, and in many ways set off the Virat Kohli era.
But skipper Kohli wasn’t prepared to swagger off the SSC ground like most would have done. He instead let Ishant Sharma, his tireless workhorse who had bowled his heart out and given breakthroughs whenever the team needed it, lead the team off the field.
He then coaxed, rather forced, a reticent Cheteshwar Pujara, who had played a masterful knock to set up the victory in difficult conditions and circumstances, to join the lanky pacer at the front of the victorious group.
Kohli had ensured by then, however, that he was in possession of one of the stumps as a memoir, which is sure to remain with him for years to come.
It was a series in which India, despite the deflating loss in the first Test at Galle, had dominated more sessions than the hosts. It was a series where a number of young batsmen put their hand up and agreed to step into positions, which were erstwhile alien to them ? be it Ajinkya Rahane coming in at No.3 with a century at P’Sara Oval or Pujara coming in as make-shift opener for the third Test.
It was a series where Ishant took over as the leader of the pace attack, guiding his young cohorts while also reaffirming that he was the pace spearhead that India have been desperately seeking.
At the same time, R Ashwin ? who finished with the man-of-the-series award for his 21 wickets and half-century at SSC ? lifted his bowling to an elite level and in tandem with the much-improved Amit Mishra proved that India’s spin bowling was in safe hands.
The one issue that the Indian team management kept harping on in the build-up to the series was their unabashed pursuit of taking 20 wickets in each Test.
Even though the batsmen did struggle to get going on the surprisingly bowler-friendly wickets in Sri Lanka, the theory was proven right as the bowlers finished with 60 wickets ? only the second time an Indian bowling attack had managed it in a three-Test series in their history.
Kohli has turned up for press conferences, keeping his composure even while being bombarded with post-mortem queries after the shocking loss in Galle. But it hasn’t meant that he has doffed his aggressive exterior completely on the field. It was he who ran across to Kusal Perera, pumping his fists, after Ashwin had gotten rid of the dangerous wicket-keeper batsman. And it took Ashwin to calm his captain down and send Perera on his way, thus ensuring that things didn’t go out of hand.
If ever you needed a sign of what Kohli’s been talking about, this was it ? a player reining in his captain. Funnily enough, just a few overs later, it would be Kohli’s turn to deter an untoward incident when Dhammika Prasad ? who had been involved in an ugly spat with Ishant ? walked out to the crease. The captain had packed his temperamental pacer off to fine-leg like a strict headmaster even if Ishant clearly wanted a piece of his nemesis.
Yet, when asked about it, Kohli would admit to have been rather chuffed with the mood his fast bowler was in following the spat.
“He didn’t concede a single boundary for 19 overs. I was very happy that he was in an aggressive mindset and an angry fast bowler is a captain’s delight,” he would say. You just couldn’t disagree. Not on a day the Virat Kohli era had been set in motion.