As 2016 ended with a cliffhanger of a Test — read Asad Shafiq versus Australia — in the mind wandered what 2017 has in the store. Hardly four days into the new year, MS Dhoni resigned as the captain of India's limited-overs sides and the Virat Kohli era had begun.
The year 2017 had many moments and talking points: A once-in-a-life-time innings from Marcus Stoinis, Sri Lanka's T20I triumph in Australia, Steve Smith's men surprising India in Pune on a rank-turner, Pakistan's unimagined glory in the Champions Trophy, the Kohli-Kumble saga, the rules changes and what not!
It was a year which saw many unexpected results; Zimbabwe's ODI series win against Sri Lanka, Dinesh Chandimal trumping Pakistan in UAE to name a couple.
As we bid farewell to 2017 and welcome 2018, let's go through some of the cricketing talking points of the year:
The rise and rise of the Indian cricket team
Riding high on confidence, India entered the Pune Test only to be humbled by the 32-year old Steve O'Keefe. His 12 wickets in the first Test laid the foundation for one of Australia's most remarkable victories in Asia. The result was not envisaged by anybody and it made the Bengaluru Test a must win encounter for Kohli's men, if they were to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, and the way the Indian team reacted was awe-inspiring.
From then, India have never looked back. Barring an anomaly against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final, Kohli's men have hardly been on the losing side. Match after match, series after series, the team and the players prospered. The fruitful run also includes a 9-0 tour whitewash of Sri Lanka. Such has been their dominance that they hold the rubber against almost all the teams.
But the real fun begins now. Most of their matches in 2017 were at home and if they want to be known as one of the most dominating team in cricket history, winning abroad is a must. India coach Ravi Shastri put it rightly when he said that 'the coming 18 months will define this team.'
Pakistan's unparalleled success at Champions Trophy
When Pakistan lost their first match of the Champions Trophy against India, they were severely criticised by the media. The fans had lost their hope and the talks of return tickets had already started.
But what transpired later on was Pakistan being Pakistan at its best.
The game against South Africa was labelled as a mismatch. Nobody gave Sarfraz Ahmed's men a chance but their bowling unit punched above their weight as the side registered their first win. Sarfraz and Mohammed Amir somehow carried Pakistan over the line in their next match but from then onwards, Pakistan produced magnificent performances.
They outclassed tournament favourites England in the semi-final and arch-rivals India in the final to clinch their first major ICC trophy in ODIs since 1992.
Rise of Women's cricket turn heads
Probably the biggest gain for the sport in 2017 would be women's cricket taking center-stage for the first time. It was a breakthrough year in women’s cricket that saw record attendance and global audiences watching the Women's World Cup. The growth was only bolstered by the International Cricket Council (ICC) deciding to live stream all matches and broadcasting 12 matches of the marquee tournament.
The numbers soared over the roof with ICC claiming more than 180 million global viewers, an increase of 300 percent in viewing hours compared to the previous edition in 2013 and with over a million tweets, the #WWC17 becoming the most tweeted hashtags for women’s sport in 2017.
The viewers witnessed some of the exemplary invidual performances — South Africa captain Dane van Niekerk picking four wickets for no run against the Windies, Indian captain Mithali Raj slamming a world record seventh consecutive fifty during their first game against the hosts England, to going past Charlotte Edwards and becoming the leading run-scorer in Women's ODIs.
Harmanpreet Kaur's blistering 171 off 115 balls to help India overcome six-time winners Australia to enter the final, where England prevailed narrowly over India. England pace bowler Anya Shrubsole stole the show with an inspiring six-wicket haul in the summit match to lift the trophy in front of a packed Lord's stadium.
Afghanistan and Ireland getting Test status
It is quite amusing to see how quickly Afghanistan has gone through the ranks in world cricket. They gained ODI status in 2009, thanks to a sixth-place finish in the World Cup qualifiers in South Africa, and eight years later they, along with Ireland, were made the eleventh and twelfth Test members respectively. Both teams had showed they deserved the promotion since 2005 through consistent performances in the Intercontinental Cup, which is ICC's first-class competition for Associates.
Given the sport's conservatism, the Test status handed to both the nations was a phenomenal move which proved that cricket is on the right path on its mission to expand beyond the same old nations.
Ireland are all set to play their inaugural Test against Pakistan in May 2018 — most probably on a green track at home, while India will host Afghanistan for their maiden Test.
Pakistan bid goodbye to MisYou era
One of the highlights for any cricket aficionado in 2016 was seeing Misbah-ul-Haq do the press ups at Lord's after scoring a magnificent hundred. In the same series another Pakistan legend, Younis Khan smashed his sixth double century at The Oval to help his side win the fourth Test and level the Test series 2-2 against England, following which Pakistan were awarded the Test mace in front of home crowd in Lahore for becoming the number one side.
But this year we saw the two of the very fine cricketers from Pakistan bid goodbye, after playing their final Test in West Indies in May. Nothing quite describes Pakistan cricket and the impact Misbah had on the Test side like the following quote by the man himself:
"Whenever I go out to bat, the score is 10 for 3. Fine, I'll move up the order and take the score to 230 for 3, but then they are all out for 235."
The two stalwarts left a massive hole behind when they walked into the sunset.
ODI captain and national hero, courtesy the Champions Trophy win, Sarfraz took over the Test captaincy from Misbah as Pakistan began their first assignment post-'MisYou' era by hosting Sri Lanka in their adopted home in UAE.
Pakistan named five debutants in the squad and the Sri Lankan team who were going through one of their worst years as a cricketing nation breached Pakistan's fortress to hand them back-to-back defeats to sweep the series.
Not discounting the skewed nature of the ranking system but Pakistan slipping to the seventh rung by the end of the series in UAE did reflect on the massive craters left behind with the retirements of Misbah and Younis.
Anil Kumble-Virat Kohli Saga
The year that belonged to India as they went on to win series after another to complete an enviable home season saw ugly fallout between Indian captain Kohli and then-coach Anil Kumble, with the latter eventually resigning from the head coach's position.
Kumble termed the partnership with the captain 'untenable' with Kohli having some 'reservations' against him. The incident didn't pan out well in front of the Indian faithful leaving a sour taste in the cricketing community. But, both men seem to have moved ahead as the former leg-spinner was seen at the wedding reception of the Indian captain previous week.
England lose The Ashes urn after Ben Stokes blow
England's star all-rounder Ben Stokes was arrested following a bar brawl in Bristol. The incident occurred a couple of days prior to the selection of England's Ashes squad that would travel to Australia later in November. Stokes was released the same day under investigation.
The New Zealand-born all-rounder was named in the squad and he retained his vice-captaincy as well. Albeit, he was subsequently ruled out of international selection after a video footage of him causing bodily harm to a 27-year-old man was released by The Sun.
He was promptly released from the Ashes squad, pending an investigation and a Stoke-less England left for Australia.
The result? England were beaten in the first three Tests of the five-match series and subsequently lost the urn to Australia.
It threw England's plan into disarray with the all-rounder providing the fulcrum to the English side, and what makes it worse was before the incident Stokes was in the middle of a tremendous run, winning matches for his team with the bat and ball.
Cricket returns to Pakistan
For years (discounting the Zimbabwe series), as Pakistan scaled new heights under Misbah's captaincy, their fans were left with no choice but to connect with their favourite cricketers via a television set. So when Pakistan walked out at the centre in the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore for the first T20I against World XI it was a soul-stirring occasion for the nation and its players.
Many of their players were going to play an international match at home for the first time. The return of high-profile international cricket to Pakistan was also an opportunity for the country to display its organisational skills and security to the whole world and Pakistan did that successfully.
Even the Sri Lankan team, who were attacked on that fateful day in 2009, visited Pakistan to play a lone T20I. In 2018, Windies are expected to feature in a T20I series too.
Windies pummel to a new low
Windies cricket has been in the doldrums for quite some time now, but the team hit rock bottom by failing to finish in the top eight rankings listed out by the ICC before the cut-off date of 30 September 2017, and subsequently losing a direct entry in the forthcoming World Cup to take place in England in 2019.
Windies required a major upstage — beat England 5-0 or 4-1 — and depend on Sri Lanka's failure in ODIs to make it in the top eight of ODI rankings before the cut off date; instead the Caribbean side lost the ODI series 4-0 in England with one game being washed out.
The two-time world champions will now have to participate in the qualifiers that will be held in Zimbabwe in March 2018 to make it to the marquee event.
Windies will be joined by Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Ireland — completing the bottom four sides (ranked ninth to 12th) of the ICC ODI championship. Along with them, the top four sides of the ICC World Cricket League Championship — Netherlands, Scotland, Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea — and the top two sides from ICC World Cricket League Division 2 that will be determined in February 2018 will feature in the tournament. Only the top sides will qualify for the eventual World Cup in 2019.
Sri Lanka's slump
Hardly has a team looked so yielding as Sri Lanka have been in 2017 — a year that has been as forgettable for them as it can get. The disappointment started when Bangladesh beat them in the second Test in March. Coach Graham Ford resigned and Angelo Mathews stepped down from captaincy after an embarrassing ODI series loss against Zimbabwe. Upul Tharanga was subsequently appointed the limited-overs captain and was replaced by Thisara Perera, who also seems to be a stop-gap solution.
The problem for Sri Lanka is that despite all the losses, they still haven't solved their problems. The couple of series against India have also displayed the lack of temperament and character in this Sri Lankan unit. In a number of matches, the Lankans have been outplayed in the first innings or the first part of the match itself making the second half of it inevitable.
But the appointment of Chandika Hathurusingha will introduce fresh ideas in the dressing room. With Bangladesh, Hathurusingha assembled a group of tough cricketers who refused to go down without a spirited fight, and he would like do the same with Sri Lanka.
This brings us to the end of 2017 as we looked back at some of the most discussed events from the world of cricket in the year gone by. More action and drama awaits us as we change our calendar. Expect another exciting year of cricket as we turn to 2018.