This series a revelation with this bowling attack - Kohli
Virat Kohli, sitting alongside leading wicket-taker and Man of the Series R Ashwin, looked back at his team's 2-1 win over Sri Lanka and said, "I think this series belongs to the bowlers because they have been outstanding apart from Cheteshwar's knock which was world class, one of the best I have seen in Test cricket. Apart from that, the bowlers have really stood out in this series."
India's series victory was not merely their first in Sri Lanka after 22 years, it was also only the third time in their history that they recovered from 0-1 down to win a series. It was also only the second time in their history that India took all 60 wickets in a three-Test series.
This series victory has come on the back of Kohli and the Indian team management setting great store by playing five specialist batsmen and a wicketkeeper to ensure that they had five bowlers to share the load of taking 20 wickets. Kohli said that the team's bowlers had responded to the demands made on them as a unit in keeping with the team's plans, arriving at a template they could use in the future.
"It takes a lot of character for the fast bowler to come and bowl six balls on a channel on the fourth or fifth stump knowing that you are not making the batsman play," he said. "You might have to bowl five overs and maybe four maidens out of that. It takes a lot of character because it is hot, humid and to think that I am going to bowl five overs and maintain line and length and not go for wickets all the time is very difficult for the bowlers to accept firstly and to execute. But that they have done beautifully. They are willing to work harder than they might have in the past, they have been willing to put in that extra effort."
Kohli said the bowlers had both understood and accepted the demands of discipline and "not concede too many runs so the pressure can be created. The guys are learning every day. That bowling one side of the wicket and keeping the field, that works in Test cricket. That you need to test guys' patience rather than losing yours first. It is all about that and this series has been a revelation with this bowling attack and the guys have understood and learnt from this experience."
Ashwin spoke of being part of a bowling unit that had worked in tandem and that pressure generated from one could be reflected off the other. "We try and feed off each others' spells from the other side," he said. "It's a great thing. But there is a long way to go as far as I can see it. We need to get such consistent periods all through the day. It's very difficult to maintain it for two or three sessions in a day. Teams that can do that eventually go on to become champion sides. That is one thing we can focus on going forward."
The series win, Kohli said, could be the "right kind of catalyst for us to play the same kind of cricket in the future as well, wherever we play." India under Kohli have often spoken about wanting to play fearless and aggressive cricket and this victory would certainly add more fuel to their confidence. "We maintain that drawing a Test match or thinking of those sort of things has to be the last option for our group of guys right now. They have responded beautifully and there is nothing better than winning. I think this might be the right kind of boost that we require and that we have required over a long period of time.
"I know for a fact that the guys will want to improve their cricket even further from here on, knowing that we can do things like this. And they would want to beat other teams as well and get these kind of results because these are special moments. These are the kind of things you remember when you are done with your career - how many games you have won, how many series you have won as a team. This is the right kind of push that this team needed."
Kohli was asked whether the thought of the game slipping away from India, when Angelo Mathews and Kusal Perera put up a 135-run partnership for the sixth wicket and went after the bowling in the second session, crossed his mind. "Never," was the reply. It was, he said, "about concentrating more on that situation rather than thinking about that we might lose from this situation. That thought never crossed my mind even if opposition is trying to be too aggressive. I think it's very important to keep believing that you will get those couple of chances and it is important to grab them."
The defeat in Galle, where India dominated play for seven sessions out of 11, and then lost when their batsmen failed to chase 176 became a staging post for the team to put its collective strength to the test. "One thing we decided was to stick together as a team, don't worry too much," Kohli said. "Obviously you will be criticised when you lose or have a bad performance but it's important as cricketers not to focus on that. It's important to focus on what the team needs to do in the next game, prepare for the next day even if it's a travelling day, rather than thinking about what has happened.
"It hurt a lot to lose the Galle game but I would like to praise the guys on how well they stuck together. They did not discuss what went wrong too much." He said it had taken "a lot of effort" from his team to stay positive and find the renewed energy to turn the series around. "We believed we could do [it]. Ashwin and I are sitting here talking about the series win because of the belief we had even after losing the first game."
When asked about the performances across the board by players who came into the side as replacements, Kohli said if India were playing a Test within a fortnight, the team management and him would not be able to select a team. "I am glad we have some time off before we play Test matches again because if you are playing a Test match again in ten days' time, 15 days' time, I wouldn't be able to select a team along with the management because everyone has scored runs, everyone has taken wickets, so who will you drop? But, yeah, problem of plenty is never bad…It's never bad to have seven-eight guys in form, is it? Not a bad problem this."
India play their next Test series versus South Africa in November and begin a long run at home having ended a two-year cycle of away tours with this series win.
If the 2001 home series against Australia, one of the three Indian comebacks from being 0-1 down (the first being a five-Test series versus England in 1972), marked the start of an era where India began to travel better and win more Tests overseas than had happened in the past, Sri Lanka 2015 has the potential to become the moment from where Indian cricket could set out to, at the very start, erase the painful memory of India's miserable away record over the last four years.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo