Kohli stayed confident of victory despite 'high-quality' batting from SL
India came up against some high-quality sweeping from Sri Lanka, which finally made them work hard to bowl the hosts out, but on a pitch were balls were exploding off a length and beating the bat, it was a matter of time before one took the edge too. Once that breakthrough was achieved, in the form of Dimuth Karunaratne after lunch on the fourth day, India broke open the door. Their captain Virat Kohli said it was important to maintain patience and discipline even as he praised the Sri Lanka batting highly.
"When you have a lead of 440 on you still and then you lose a couple of wickets and then you are playing one way and it's coming off, I would say, as a batsman, it's very difficult to keep carrying on for four sessions," Kohli said. "That's exactly what we spoke about as a team. This can happen for two sessions because of momentum, but when the day ended yesterday [with only two wickets taken in 60 overs], we spoke about coming out fresh, [and that] they have to do this again for two sessions. So, high-risk cricket can be played on one particular day, I would say. And that's a brilliant day for any team but to do that again and again is a difficult thing.
"We knew that we can get in as a team whenever we get a mistake or two, and that's exactly what happened. And also the pitch was such that those chances had to come at some stage. But as I said, credit to them to have done that, it requires a lot of ability and mental strength. I mean we were actually watching in awe yesterday, the sweeping was outstanding and we congratulated both the batters because it was proper Test cricket batting and high-quality temperament from both [Karunaratne and Kusal Mendis] and as well."
This was only the second genuine follow-on enforced by Kohli as captain out of seven proper opportunities he has had. He said batting third and scoring fast when batting third was an aggressive option in itself. "If you see our batting in the second innings in the last six months or so, it has changed," Kohli said. "Our second-innings batting has become more positive, we are taking on more chances and we are giving those extra 20-25 overs to the bowlers to get wickets if that phase is required.
"See 183 all out and lead of 440, that prompted us, looking at the wicket the way it was spinning, not to bat again. And we had only bowled 40 or 48 overs in the first innings. So bowlers were fresh and we got lunch break in between as well, which is 40 minutes. So all those things taken into consideration we ended up enforcing the follow-on because we felt we have enough on the board not to bat again. If this was like 200 or something, we could have still batted and score 200 or 250 runs and put them again.
"Chasing a target is always big pressure situation because you lose one as a side and then you don't know how the new batters will react under the pressure. So we always like that format where we put opposition under pressure for chasing in a Test in the fourth innings more often than we do it."
India have never whitewashed a side in countries other than Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. They are now on the verge of it, but Kohli said he didn't think of it as home and away. "It's obviously nice to win this series again," Kohli said. "Yes, we do have that chance [of an away whitewash], but honestly speaking, we are not looking at Test matches or Test cricket now as home and away anymore. We are just looking at Test matches as Test matches and we want to win anywhere that we play. If we can believe enough in our abilities then we are not really bothered about where we are playing.
"That kind of energy I can sense in the team, and the team believes that as well. You know, we have to only look to win Test matches. However, it may be, on whatever pitch or in whatever conditions. We are creating a habit of winning. That I think can be carried on in future as well. So yes, from the numbers point of view and from stats point of view, these things look great, but for us as a team, it's all about achieving those small little goals every time we go out to play a Test match. For us, this is priority. Test cricket is the most important thing for us. And everyone plays with a lot of passion.
"If you see, last nine Test matches, six times we've got 600 runs. That shows the hunger of the batsmen, they are waiting for an opportunity, there are lower-order contributions as well. All these things are... they feel great as a team. In the dressing room we feel really proud of each other's efforts, that we're really putting in those consistent, convincing performances, and winning Test matches more often than getting the other results. We really feel good as a team that we're able to win consistently right now, but we realise that it's very important to keep carrying on the same way as well."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo