The year 2018 started with a difficult tour. India were playing three Test matches, a six-match ODI series, and three T20Is. Winning this contest in South Africa, after a four-year gap, was not going to be an easy task, considering how dominant the South Africans had always been in their backyard.
The Indian broadcaster Sony TV’s sports wing launched a campaign titled ‘Hisaab 25 Saal Ka’ (payback for twenty-five years) stressing that India had not won a Test series in South Africa since their first tour in 1992.
Virat was in top form in 2017 – he had broken many records and was on the verge of surpassing many more. But the pressure was on him both as captain and batsman. After winning nine Test series in a row, Virat’s team was ready for the real ‘test’. Not only that, the team’s number one status at Test cricket was also at stake.
Touted as the most competent team to defeat the home team, Virat’s army was seriously challenged. Their winning streak came to a halt as the Indian camp lost the first two Tests. The batting line-up failed miserably, the boy who made cricket history 149 except for Virat’s mesmerizing 153 runs off 217 balls in the second Test match.
As they were on the verge of series whitewash, Virat was visibly unhappy with the team’s performance. He was also upset with the match officials because a few of their decisions had cost the team heavily. However, one of his good qualities is that he doesn’t live in the past. As he said to PTI in May 2016, ‘Every day is a new day, every series is a new series. I always feel that there is a scope for improvement, and with every game, I take the plus and the minus as this helps me improvise. There is no substitute to hard work and discipline.’
The Indian team arrived in Johannesburg with new vigour and resolution. Virat made the right call at the toss. Batting first, India set a target of 241 before the home team. South Africa were 124 for 1 wicket and they were looking all set to win the match until just before tea break. What followed was typical cricket lore – the Indian pace attack spearheaded a dramatic collapse of the South African team, which folded at 177 and India won by 63 runs on the fourth day of the final Test.
Muhammad Ali, American former heavyweight champion boxer and one of the greatest sporting figures of the twentieth century, once said, ‘The man who has no imagination has no wings.’ Imagination is all about seeing the possibilities of doing great things. It lights a fire within us. In an interview to the media, Virat too talked about the power of imagination: ‘…[in the Johannesburg Test] Dale was bowling a few bouncers when I was in my thirties. He kept urging me to pull. Then I saw that one ball for which I had visualized a proper pull shot, playing it down, and I beat deep square leg four feet to his left. I hit it that hard. So I felt: this is exactly what I had imagined and this is exactly what happened.’
The win at Johannesburg is one of Indian cricket’s most famous wins. Besides the bowlers’ performance, Virat’s two spectacular innings on an extremely tough pitch were crucial in this historical win. With 286 runs in the three Tests, Virat was the most successful batsman in the series.
Vivian Richards, the West Indian great, explains Virat’s consistent success. ‘We know he has got magnificent skills,’ Richards says, ‘but the thing that impresses me more than anything else is his seriousness about the game and his will. You can see that is why he is so successful. A lot of other cricketers with great talent lack that.’ Virat was proving him right.
This last match of the series also tested Virat’s skills as captain. The critics who were not impressed with his captaincy in the first two Tests saw some great fielding placements and bowling changes. Virat felt that India could have won the series had it been a five-match tournament. Though it lost the series 2–1, the Indian team had struck a triumphant note at the end. The momentum now swung in its favour before the limited overs cricket.
Led by Virat, the Indian cricket team created history by winning the first ever bilateral ODI series in South Africa. (India had never won an ODI series here since India’s first tour of the country in 1992!) Such was Virat’s dominance in this epic series that Shikhar Dhawan, who was the second highest run scorer, followed with only 200 runs, behind Virat’s whopping total of 558 runs.
Virat scored more runs than South African batsmen Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla, A.B. de Villiers, Aiden Markram and David Miller combined! For his brilliant form in the series, Virat was adjudged Man of the Match and Man of the Series. Virat also became the first Indian batsman to score three centuries in a bilateral series. With these 500-plus runs, he set a new record for most runs in a bilateral ODI series.
(Excerpted with the permission of Hachette India)
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