'I wasn't thinking of a draw at any stage' - Kohli
When India began the final day's play, and their innings, they needed 364 to win in 98 overs. It was a ridiculous thought at the time. "To win." The obvious expectation was that India would have done really well to have got away with a draw. Many an Indian side of the past has responded to such situations with a draw on its mind, and has failed. This one, though, went for the victory, and a ball before the captain Virat Kohli fell agonisingly to a mistimed pull off Australia's best bowler, Nathan Lyon, India actually needed just 60 with four wickets in hand and a little under 17 overs to go.
Kohli had scored a scarcely believable 141 off 175. This was possibly only his second false stroke of the day, on a pitch that had ugly rough staring at him, with the ball turning and bouncing and performing all sorts of tricks. Kohli was visibly distraught when he was dismissed, a state that would have been worsened as India lost by 48 runs. Minutes later, he said India came so close in the first place because they had gone for the win, and that he was proud of what his side did even though it didn't end in a win.
"At no point did we not think about chasing the score down," Kohli said. "We have come here to play positive cricket. No sort of negativity is welcome in this group. That's the kind of belief we have come here with. This has been one of our strongest performances overseas in the past two-three years, and I am really proud the way the boys played in this game. Showed a lot of heart and a lot of character.
"When I and [M] Vijay [who scored 99] were batting, it looked like we had the upper hand throughout. At no point did I think we had to pull out of the chase. I always believed that I could do it along with the tail as well. I backed myself in the first innings as well and did not regret the kind of shot I played. It's about how you look at things. There is enough reason to regret things, but at the same time you have to look at the positives. I look at every outing as an opportunity to do something special for the team. If we had been able to pull it off, it would have been one of the most special moments of my life."
Listening to Kohli speak, you couldn't help but wonder if there was another attitudinal change on its way. "The positive approach that we wanted was there," he said. "We played the kind of cricket we wanted to play. Wins and losses are part of this game. We didn't play for a draw. We played for a win. We lost. No problem. If we had won, the questions would have different, the answers would have been different. We have to maintain this kind of an approach if we have to win abroad. If we try to play for a draw, the negative approach creeps in. I am very happy with the way we played. We want to stay on the same page and the same zone. Going ahead, our results will get better and the series will be an exciting one."
Kohli was asked to compare the heartbreak of such a defeat vis-à-vis the disappointment of three-day defeats, two of which India have most recently suffered. "It's not disappointing at all," Kohli said. "I'm just, I'm only hurt because we didn't cross the line when it looked pretty bright for us. But that's the way sport goes, that's the way Test cricket goes. But at no point did we back off, and we are not going to back off either.
"If you see cricket like this for the rest of the series, it's in the balance throughout. Guys believe in that. Unless you believe something there is no chance of achieving it. We have come here with that belief, and we have started on a really nice note. Really positive note. I think the boys can be really proud of themselves, the way they played the game. But Australia were much better."
The praise for Australia was forthcoming and unprovoked. "Obviously Australia were far better than us as far as taking chances and grabbing opportunities is concerned," Kohli said. "They deserved to win today."
Kohli said he could play such an innings only because he was positive. "The only thing I kept telling myself was to believe," he said. "Just believe in myself. Every ball that I play. The intent was to get a boundary every ball. That's how I could keep out the good balls. If I was trying to defend already, I am giving the bowler a chance before I play the ball.
"One good thing was, I wasn't thinking about any milestones. I was only thinking of the target and trying to calculate whom I can go after, when to accelerate, what to do, at what point of time. The milestone was out of question, and that's one thing I am pleased about that I have been able to do that in Test cricket at last. That was something new for me, and that felt good. Otherwise I was just reacting to watching the ball and being positive at the crease. Nothing more than that, no major planning, playing on my instinct, and at the same time I was trying to calculate the innings and target as well."
He also elaborated on the addition of the sweep shot to his repertoire, a shot that helped him counter Lyon on the spinning track: "[It's] probably the first time in my life I've swept so much. Suprisingly, I haven't practised it so much. I've been practicing the lap a lot but not the flat-batted sweep. But it surprisingly started coming off, I don't know how. I saw the ball, put my foot down, tried to sweep and it came off. I was feeling good about it, mentally I was feeling positive that I can sweep and that's a big thing with me."
Kohli was asked to describe what he went through when he got out. "I was hoping when Mitch Marsh was swinging at the boundary, I was hoping he will drop the catch," he said. "But as I said I went for my shots, I don't have any regrets. Probably could have placed it better. Had it gone for a boundary, things could have different. But then again those are big ifs and there is nothing that can be done about it now."
He might have lost it, but Kohli said this was the best Test he has been a part of. "I used to think the Test match in Johannesburg against South Africa was the best Test we played, hanging both ways but that ended in a draw," Kohli said. [Now] I would prefer this one. I strongly believe both teams played with the same kind of attitude, and that's why the crowd loved it as well. And all the players involved in the Test match enjoyed it as well. That's what we play cricket for. There's no point in having draws with both teams scoring 700 runs each. It has to be exciting, it has to be result-oriented, and I enjoyed it a lot. I will probably rank this as the best Test I have been part of, especially because it's overseas for us."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo