By Ian Chadband
LONDON (Reuters) – Only one team in the history of test cricket has won a five-match series from 2-0 down but India have an opportunity to emulate Don Bradman’s Australians of 1936-37 after fighting back against England.
Just don’t mention the outlandish idea to India’s coach Ravi Shastri.
“1936-37? I wasn’t even born, man! Why are you reminding me of 36-37?,” boomed Shastri in Nottingham on Wednesday after his side’s emphatic victory had reduced their series deficit to 2-1 and prompted excitable questioning.
“One match at a time, we live in the present, okay? One game at a time. We move to Southampton and start afresh. Take a fresh guard. 2018,” added the coach, in his finest dead bat mode of old.
The man who could bore for India with the bat has another cavalier side to him, though.
A guy who also once belted six sixes in an over — and in an era long before Twenty20 bashes — can keep the lid on the hype but Shastri knows his men must attack this once-in-a-lifetime chance with gusto.
His players were on a roll as England’s batsmen just rolled over at Trent Bridge. He purred at watching what he felt was “by far” the best Indian pace attack he’d seen. And, above all, he trusted in his captain marvel Virat Kohli.
When the matchless Bradman, in his first series as Australia’s captain, went two down in those 1936-37 Ashes, he responded with a monumental 270 at Melbourne that set up their third test win.
Kohli’s 200 runs at Trent Bridge — the second time in the series he had compiled a double century of runs in the match, following his defiant effort in a losing cause at Edgbaston — provided the same impetus for his side, continuing a series in which he has underlined his own greatness as a batsman.
So what happens next? In Bradman’s case, further epic captain’s innings — 212 at Adelaide and 169 back in Melbourne — laid the foundations of the 3-2 comeback win.
Yet while “The Don” was always in a world of his own, Kohli has his own Bradmanesque air at the moment.
“His work ethic is second to none. I haven’t seen any cricketer — I’ll put Tendulkar in that bracket — when it comes to preparation, in the way he visualises situations, the way he goes about planning what he plans to do,” Shastri said.
“I promise you, Virat will forget these two innings now and take guard again as if he hadn’t scored a run in the series.”
Being ranked alongside the great Sachin Tendulkar would not so long ago have been considered almost unthinkable in India – now, though, it is accepted as a matter of routine.
Some good judges even believe Kohli is actually surpassing India’s little masters, Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar, now that he has conquered what they considered his last hurdle of thriving in English conditions.
In one area, there can be no argument. Kohli paid tribute to Tendulkar after India’s 2011 World Cup win, saying: “He has carried the burden of our nation on his shoulders for the past 21 years. So it is time that we carried him.”
Now it is Kohli carrying the same burden and doing so beautifully. The Trent Bridge 200 took his tally for the series to 440, including two centuries, and returned him to the top of the ICC test rankings for batsmen.
With two tests left — the next starts at Southampton on Aug. 30 — Kohli, who has scored more test runs (726) than anyone in 2018, needs six more to top 6,000 in tests and if he does so in the first innings, he will have reached the landmark in his 119th knock. Tendulkar took 120.
He could also go on to overhaul Rahul Dravid’s tally of 602 runs, the most by an Indian in a series in England.
Yet it is a measure of the way the 29-year-old has matured from tyro batsman into inspirational leader that the collective feat of India completing a cricket comeback for the ages would mean far more to him than more individual laurels.
“We definitely believe we can if we play cricket like this,” said the man who looks as if he could achieve anything if he keeps batting like this.
(Reporting by Ian Chadband, editing by Ed Osmond)