When MS Dhoni’s India arrived at Southampton in 2014, the visitors’ dressing room was brimming with confidence and belief. India were leading 1-0 in the five-match Test series going into the third match. The lead had come at Lord’s in the second Test, a memorable result for India: Ajinkya Rahane cracked a century; Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma grabbed career-best figures in an innings; and Lord’s was entranced by Ravindra Jadeja’s cavalier half-century, which he celebrated with a sword dance.
England captain Alastair Cook’s career was on the line when he went to toss at the Ageas Bowl. Early on he edged Pankaj Singh. Unfortunately for India, Jadeja spilled an easy catch in the slips. The story after that is well known: Cook scored a gritty 95, England won that Test and the next two. India were wounded.
Four years on, India have returned to Southampton. Although Joe Root’s England lead the series 2-1, Virat Kohli’s India feel they have the momentum after a crushing victory at Trent Bridge achieved with a collective effort similar to that Lord’s win in 2014. And Kohli believes India hold the edge with two Tests to go.
That belief comes from the way India have adapted and learned from situations. At Edgbaston and Lord’s all the batsmen, barring Kohli, failed to show any application to survive the conditions and England’s bowling plans. Their slip fielders frustrated the fast bowlers by spilling catches.
But at Trent Bridge the openers wiped the sheen off the Dukes ball, the partnerships prospered, the fast bowlers dominated, the debutant wicketkeeper and the slips held onto the catches nicely and the captain continued with his good form with the bat. India entered Nottingham with a series defeat a realistic possibility. They left Nottingham with a series-levelling victory in Southampton a realistic possibility.
Kohli picked out the one crucial difference between the India side of 2014 and now is how the players have seized the situation in a match.
“Last time around I can’t really pinpoint as to what we did wrong or maybe England played much better than us,” he said. “We probably didn’t have the experience to capitalise on the lead is how I see things four years down the line. Right now we understand that we are in a very exciting position to have gained momentum at the right time in the series, and to have played like that when 2-0 down when everyone thought that it is going to be a clean sweep or we are going to be rolled over. But we understood how we are playing and how we have been playing for the last few months and it was just about capitalising on the big moments during the Test match.”
The other significant difference between the two India teams is the current fast bowling attack. Ishant Sharma has bowled and behaved as the captain of the attack. Mohammed Shami has built the pressure with high pace and fuller lengths. Jasprit Bumrah, in his first match of the series, created angles that bamboozled England. Hardik Pandya, too, stepped up his pace and displayed his bowling smartness, wrapping up England’s middle order in a spell of 29 balls in the first innings at Trent Bridge. India’s fast men now have a grip over the England batsmen.
“They’ve been bowling well as a unit which is the most exciting thing for me as a captain and for the whole team,” Kohli said. “Be it a spell or bowling in a partnership, we feel happy when we are at the ground, at slips or even outside. It gives us happiness when we see our bowlers rushing the opposite batsmen. The game remains in balance and doesn’t shift completely to one side. We don’t think we are at a disadvantage when it comes to pace bowling. We think we are equal to any team in the world and if we play well, we can win anywhere.”