Tough lessons in defeat will harden India's Test team, says Virat Kohli after 4-1 loss
India captain Virat Kohli has admitted that until and unless his team starts "capitalising" on important moments in matches where they have created pressure, and sustain it, they will not win Test series overseas.
And the only way to create pressure, Kohli emphasised, was by starting a series well and not "warming up", as India did after losing the winning advantage at Edgbaston on the fifth morning of the first Test, which they lost by 31 runs.
"We need to start series well, we can't warm up in to a series because the first Test is always crucial, and we need to make sure we are in the right frame of mind to be able to do all the things right to strike first," Kohli said in the wake of his team's 4-1 series defeat at The Oval.
India, the No. 1-ranked Test team, had arrived with many pundits predicting their best showing in England in a decade, and with Kohli himself saying that his squad had the right balance compared to the previous touring teams lead by MS Dhoni, in 2011 and 2014, when India lost the series by 4-0 and 3-1 margins. Yet, India managed to win one Test this time too, the third in Nottingham, where a collective effort across all three departments enabled them to stay in the series after consecutive defeats at Edgbaston and Lord's.
Kohli said India did not sustain that kind of effort and pressure, and that is how England snatched the control of the series quickly. "We do not look at this series as something that makes us think we can't play in overseas conditions. Of course, we can play, but can we capitalise on the important moments better than the opposition? At the moment, no, we haven't done that.
"But in the future we want to do that, and, that is the only way we win series, and our aim is to win series, not to win the odd Test match and be happy about it."
According to Kohli the only reason he was feeling not "hard-done by", despite a one-sided scoreline, was because of the attitude with which his team played throughout the five Tests.
"We are definitely not happy about the way the series has gone, but the way we played our cricket is something that, not me, no-one in the change room, no-one doubts even one percent, because we played with the right attitude and the will to win every game that we played."
As an example he pointed out the final day's play of the series at The Oval where India were staring at a mammoth target of 464. Kohli, for a first-ball duck, was one of the three Indian wickets to fall on the fourth evening.
England already had more than a foot through the door. But KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant, two of the highest scorers in the last IPL, played aggressively on a slow and flat pitch to create a contest after a wicketless second session. Both Rahul and Pant would end up making centuries.
More than the runs, Kohli said, it was the boldness and the situational awareness that gave him hope for future series. "Not hard [done-by] at all because what matters to me is the kind of attitude you play cricket with," he said. "We said at the end of the fourth game that we won't throw in the towel and we didn't.
"We were a bowler short [Ishant Sharma retired with a sore ankle on the fourth morning] in the second innings as well, but even then the batsmen came out and played liked that. A lot of teams in the past basically have given up, but we did not. And this kind of series shows you exactly the kind of character of individuals are, and I see that as an opportunity and not adversity because if you keep winning all the time, a lot of faults are swept under the carpet, you don't realise the faults you need to work on and I certainly haven't played my cricket like that."
Despite the steep target, Kohli said that on Tuesday morning the focus of the batting unit was to play with an attitude that would create good memories. And that is exactly what Rahul and Pant did, he added.
"The one thing that we spoke about was how we react to the fifth day's play is going to determine a lot of what happens in the future for all of us," he said. "It is very easy to surrender and say it is too difficult or we might not be able to do this. But if you show the right attitude then, throughout your career, you will have more good memories than bad and the game will give you back because you are respecting the game and playing in the right manner.
"Guys like KL [Rahul], who hadn't had a great run, but still goes and plays like that. Guys want to take up their responsibility and want to be in the fight. Rishabh was doubtful after a few innings and then he comes and plays like that as well. I mean that partnership was something like a great show of character."
Kohli said that going for the win became a possibility at the start of the final session, as long as Rahul and Pant were at the crease with the target under 100. But, the mere fact that they were even thinking that way proved the courage and heart of his batsmen.
"Not many people will realise it but they look at it as if we might not have been interested or might not have had motivation, but that wasn't the case, clearly, because they were going for the win and these guys just batted really well. All credit to them that they played the game with the right attitude, and they respected the game totally."