India v Sri Lanka, CB series, Hobart February 28, 2012

A belated glimpse of India's ability

Towards the end of a long and failure-filled tour, India managed to lift themselves and conjure a scarcely believable victory

Ah, India, we've been expecting you. And this is how you arrive. Two days after even your captain, the man who loves to strike when everybody else has given up hope, had given up, not desperate enough to even check the playing conditions for some backdoor route. At a time when you are struggling to put four fit bowlers on the field. Two days after your captain said you needed to restrict oppositions to 200 to win the game, given how bad the batting had been. And now you chase 321 in 36.4 overs, the quickest such achievement with 300-plus totals. And now you wait for three days, hoping you have inflicted enough psychological damage on Sri Lanka that they lose again.

However, even if India don't make it to the finals, managing to keep their chances alive for three more days itself is a huge achievement. To just come out on one final day, at a time when it was difficult to enjoy cricket, to put behind them that yearning for home and some time away from constant challenges and scrutiny, to attain a bonus point after their bowlers had been disappointing, it defies belief. Why, on the flight from Sydney to Hobart a few members of the team were making plans of returning home.

Some others, though, felt they had nothing to lose, and they didn't want to hold back. There is something dangerous about those who have lost it all. They become unpredictable. You could have predicted India putting a strong show on the field and restricting Sri Lanka to a gettable target, but not this comeback after having conceded the tournament's first 300.

One of those men with nothing to lose was Virat Kohli, India's only centurion on this tour so far. He spoke about the challenge of such long and unsuccessful tours, how difficult it was to pull themselves up for this last match, well at least they had to play it like it was their last. "It is mentally very tiring," Kohli said. "When you are winning you can stay on tour for five months. You won't mind a single day, but when you are not doing well as a team it is really difficult to hold yourself together mentally.

"Physically it is not that much of a challenge because you have breaks in between. But to hold yourself mentally is the biggest challenge for a cricketer, and I won't say I was not feeling mentally tired or mentally very sad sometimes, but there is no running away from it. You need to get up and come to the field and give your 100% the next day. So I have probably stored in my system that you can't run away from it."

Kohli spent the last two days not thinking about cricket. Just getting away from it all. When his family called from India and spoke about cricket, he hung up. "I said, 'Please don't talk about cricket, please don't tell me to do it in the last game because I am not even thinking of it.' We were all staying as relaxed as possible because to be honest we had nothing to lose. This was one game for us, we had to give it our all. Just wanted to enjoy as much as possible, which didn't go probably our way in the first innings but the way we batted in the second innings I think it is going to lift up the spirits of the team."

From Virender Sehwag to Kohli, there was a freedom to India's play tonight. Clearly they have spent the whole tour playing with doubts in their minds, something that kept holding them back. Yes, Australia were good, but India too didn't try anything different. That resistance was missing. They just ran on a treadmill of defeat. Tonight you felt for the first time on the tour that they were enjoying their cricket. After the game, a few of them took the Segway drinks trolleys, and went around the ground in the cold Bellerive breeze with no one watching. It was a special moment. They got on the trolleys, leaned on the front bar, and spread their arms as if flying. Perhaps the idea of the last match did the trick for them.

"We are going to think each game is the last for us, and we are going to think of every game as do-or-die if we reach the finals," Kohli said. "We are going to be as expressive, I can assure you that. We are not going to think twice before trying to do something and not going to hesitate so if we do make it to the finals we are going to play like we did today."

What kept them subdued then? "Sometimes if you are not playing well, and if you are committing the same mistakes, you tend to go into a shell which is really difficult to come out of, but you need to take that extra risk like we did today to come out of that shell," Kohli said. "I can tell you that we have, and hopefully if we reach the finals then you will see a totally different Indian team out there."

What happened once India came out of the shell was something special. Mahela Jayawardene, a helpless fielding captain tonight, was reminded of Adam Gilchrist's onslaught against Sri Lanka in the World Cup final of 2007. For Kohli it was clearly his best ODI innings. Being so free in the mind is not a formula you can achieve. You can't simulate do-or-die situations everyday. The challenge for India, not only on this tour, which may or may not end in three days, is to find that mix of enjoying the game to go along with the skill, which remains an equally big ask.

Edited by Siddarth Ravindran

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rasika on March 2, 2012, 14:30 GMT

    to abiindia,

    WOW what a prediction on SL V AUS @ MCG.... ha.... ha....ha...

    As I wrote in my previous comment, some cricket fans do really need to have their heads examined.

    I hear that instead of SAHARA being sponsor, BCCI has agreed to have KINGFISHER, as both the organizations currently projects same future.

  • Rasika on March 2, 2012, 5:12 GMT

    The thing about India when it comes to sports is that the press and the public are too fast to make hero's as well as villains. That game 11 of 2012 CB series will only show only one thing. That is the bleak state of cricket in a country of 1.1 billion people with young stars who can take the game forward, hampered and held back by aging brigade who refuses to accept that their time is up and to hang the boots. What is more ironic that some media personnel who have become darlings of these cricketing uncles, still routes for them knowing very well that they are destroying their own country's cricketing future. Indian cricket loving public must also understand that transitions take time and during that period there can be bad losses, but it will be for a good future. For flag bearers of cricketing uncles, I say ""No one is indispensable".

  • abi on March 1, 2012, 17:22 GMT

    my first prediction was indian would win in 35 overs, but just above 36, tomorrow match would be 320 - 340 score by aus, SL 190 - 210 all out. watson might score a century. if any one wanted to know look my previous prediction a day before the match ind v/s sl

  • Naresh on March 1, 2012, 9:26 GMT

    KOHLI has given me hope(as a fan) of INDIAN TEAM revival. I had stopped watching games after they lost continually in Oz. There are others - especially youngsters in that team who have capablity. The fielding standards were so high in the one T20 that Oz commentators were stunned. This is what is required of Indian team be it tests, ODI or T20.

  • Dummy4 on March 1, 2012, 8:13 GMT

    @Binod Kafle In ODI's can you rate SL's 443/9 vs Netherlands better than 438/9 by SA Vs Oz? Thrasing a weak team on an off day is nothing great compared to that against good attack. Same case with T20I..260 vs weakened Kenyan bowling attack cant be called as the best record to hold. If you can consider all these India scored 400+ on 4 occasions(Vs SL,SA,Ber,WI) where SL did it only twice(Neth,Ind). Then who is the best???

  • AYush on March 1, 2012, 5:09 GMT

    @MIHINDU Rajaratne... As an Indian, I have been a big fan of Sri Lanka since 1996.. but at this point all Indians want Lankans to lose this one hehe

  • sam on March 1, 2012, 5:01 GMT

    People think I am jealous of Tendulkar. Why the hell should I be jealous of my countryman? He is all time great (even Rahul Dravid isn't one). But my point of view is Tendulkar very seldom scores when India needs him to score (in 50-50 situations) in test matches where if he scores a 75 India will win the match. He either scores when everybody has batted well (we either win or draw) or everybody fails (we inevitably lose).

  • Dummy4 on February 29, 2012, 20:38 GMT

    Well if Indian cricket team are flat track bullies then the aussies are flat track duds LoL...come to India, we will be waiting haha :D

  • TARUN on February 29, 2012, 19:32 GMT

    great inning by kohli...guys u remember the days wen dada was thre captain..those days indian team was able to reach the finals easily...but they lost in final...but dis team is totally diffrent from that team...if they reach the finals...then surely they will come back as a winner...

  • Malla on February 29, 2012, 16:21 GMT

    @Varun Anand , you should have said .. " I rest my case" ... lol

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