The past few years saw the rise of India as a financial superpower in the world of cricket, with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) riding on the success of the Indian Premier League (IPL), among other factors, to reach a position from where it could virtually dictate the motions in the sport on a global scale.
If the events of the bygone year are taken into account, then we have it's senior team establishing its superiority over other sides on the field of play as well. Given the amount of success that the Virat Kohli-led side has reaped in 2017, the glory days of Indian cricket appear to have well and truly arrived.
One could argue that the fantastic numbers that Kohli and company have produced this year might not necessarily put it in the same league as Bradman's 'Invincibles' or Clive Lloyd's West Indians. After all, the only overseas assignments that the Indians had to deal with this year were the Champions Trophy as well as the tours of West Indies and Sri Lanka — the first one ending on a bitter note, with the others turning out to be one-sided contests.
However, a team that finishes the year as the No 1 Test side, and second in both limited-overs formats, deserves some credit to say the least. In India's case, leading the Test charts for nearly an entire year does justify the observation that the senior men's team is an evolved team that is setting new standards in terms of physical fitness, and displays an insatiable appetite for wins — the trait of which seems to have rubbed off on the team from their leader.
It's not just the men's team that basked in the glory in 2017. Under the captaincy of veteran leader Mithali Raj, the senior women's team for once basked in the glory that they deserved, and had been denied for so long. With their magical journey in the World Cup that took place in July earlier this year, with a few individuals going on to become household names soon.
Here's a look at some of the talking points from the year as far as Indian cricket is concerned:
The term 'home advantage' applies to most teams in the world of cricket. Take a look at the Ashes rivalry this millennium. Barring England's victorious run in the 2010-11 edition Down Under, no side has won the urn away from home, and Steve Smith's men just continued that trend by hammering the hapless Englishmen in the first three Tests of the latest edition.
It was no different for India this year, and not losing a single bilateral series on home soil certainly is a point in this regard. The only time the Indians were under serious threat was during the Test series against Smith and company earlier this year, when the tourists sprung a surprise in the first Test at Pune to register a 333-run win, forcing the Indians to rethink their tactics and stage a comeback.
Australia's limited-overs tour in the months of September and October was even more one-sided as the series result read 4-1 in the home team's favour — the first time India had won four more more fixtures in a bilateral series against Australia.
India's 1-0 victory in the Test series against Sri Lanka, a side they have toyed with more often than not in recent years, turned out to be their ninth on the trot in the longest format, matching the feat achieved by Ricky Ponting's Australia between 2005 and 2008. While the Lankans mounted admirable fights in the Tests and one-day legs of their tour, they were relentlessly mauled in the T20I leg, with the Indians capping a dominant home run with a 3-0 sweep.
While India encountered a couple of hiccups in the tour of West Indies, especially in the one-off T20I in which they were in for an Evin Lewis special, the tour of Sri Lanka that followed would be cricket's equivalent of Germany's 7-1 blanking of Brazil in the 2014 FIFA World Cup semi-final. In Ravi Shastri's first assignment after his appointment as coach in July, India barely broke a sweat as they breezed through the tour, toppling their opponents at free will.
Among the notable moments from the tour was mystery spinner Akila Dananjaya's devastating spell, that saw the tourists collapse from 109/0 to 131/7, with Dhoni and Bhuvneshwar Kumar ultimately saving India's face in that game with a rearguard. The very next match saw a repeat of the 2015 Cuttack incident as the Pallekele crowd lost their cool over their team's non-performance in the series, resorting to bottle-throwing that nearly resulted in the game being called off.
India were heavily tipped to retain the trophy that they had won in the very same country four years ago. But the trip to England turned out to be a last-minute decision — the BCCI were deliberating over not sending their team across after being stripped of a large chunk of their powers and ICC's revenue pie as a result of being outvoted in an ICC meeting in April.
The campaign itself turned out to be a bittersweet one. While it started off with a massive win over Pakistan, they were handed a seven-wicket defeat by Sri Lanka in the very next game. The 'Men in Blue' though, got right back on track by making a mockery out of the 'virtual quarter-final' against South Africa, as well as in the semi-final against Bangladesh.
Most fairytales however, have that one stroke of luck that changes the tide, which in this case was Fakhar Zaman earning a reprieve while batting on just 3 thanks to a no-ball by Jasprit Bumrah. The former navy officer went on to score a century that got him the 'Man of the Match' award, with the Pakistanis pulling a rabbit out of the hat in the clash — justifying tags such as 'mercurial' and 'unpredictable' that they have carried with them for so long.
A 180-run hammering in the summit clash of a 'mini World Cup' surely is one that will take all those associated with Indian cricket a long time to get over with.
The Kumble-Kohli-Shastri saga
There is little to tarnish Anil Kumble's legacy as a cricketer. However, the same cannot be said of his stint as the coach of the Indian cricket team. Edging Shastri out of the race to the vacant post in mid-2016, Kumble's appointment held a lot of promise for the future, given that he was in charge of shaping a side that was slowly starting to find its feet under a new leader, and was beginning its path towards the 2019 World Cup.
It all seemed rosy at first, with the coach clicking away on his camera from the pavilion as India notched up one victory after another, beating New Zealand, England as well as Australia at home across formats. Problems however, began to creep up in the build-up to the Champions Trophy, when reports of the rift first began surfacing. It did not help that Kumble the coach had a headmaster-like image built around him, and that might have led to a lot of disagreements with a headstrong character such as Kohli.
It wasn't just the Indian captain who was part of the rift. A lot of senior players in the Indian team were alleged to have had problems with Kumble's coaching style, and that only fanned the flames in the revolt-like situation. It soon became clear that only one of the two could last in the dressing room.
The Indians played the Champions Trophy under this cloud, and three days after the rout in the summit clash, Kumble tendered his resignation from the post. In his resignation letter that he shared on social media, Kumble stated that his relationship with the skipper had become 'untenable'.
Individual brilliance/Problem of plenty
Kohli once again hogged the limelight as far as individual performance goes. While he lay low during the Australia Tests, a series in which his form was as contrasting as that of rival captain Smith, he made up for it on other occasions, especially in the recent Test series against Sri Lanka in which he struck two double-centuries, surpassing the legendary Brian Lara for most double-centuries as captain. Overall, the Delhi lad had another successful year with the bat, finishing as the highest run-getter in ODIs by a distance (1,460 at an average of 76.84), and the fourth in Tests (1,059 at 75.64).
Limited-overs opener Rohit Sharma too has been on a roll. Finishing as the second-highest run-getter in ODIs with 1,293 runs at 71.83, he seemed to have hit an all-time high as far as form is concerned while filling in as the captain during the recently-concluded ODI and T20I series against Sri Lanka. Not only did he slam an unprecedented third ODI double-ton in the Mohali 50-over game, he also equalled David Miller for the fastest T20I ton when he brought the milestone up in just 35 deliveries while obliterating the opposition attack at Indore.
KL Rahul is another notable mention in this context. With nine half-centuries registered this year, seven of which were scored on the trot, Rahul has made another solid case for himself as a long-term prospect at the top of the Test batting order. The only factor that he needs to bring into his game is conversion of those fifties into big scores for him to seal his place.
It was also a year of some interesting comebacks. Rohit earned a call-up into the Test side against Sri Lanka, and made it memorable by slamming a century in Delhi, his first century in the format in four years. The same Test saw Ishant Sharma and Murali Vijay also make the most of the opportunities handed to them.
Given the fact that runs and wickets are flowing amongst the personnel in the Indian camp, the 'problem of plenty' has become a real headache for the management and the selectors. Whether you look at the top of the Test batting order, where Rahul, Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan are yet to seal a spot, or the limited-overs bowling unit, where the wrist-spin duo of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have taken over the spots from Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, the players are always on their toes as far as proving their worth in the side is concerned.
Women finally get their due
The India women's cricket team had long been denied the coverage and following that their male counterparts get, a situation not very different from the case in other parts of the world, and indeed sports in general. The World Cup that took place earlier this year, however, changed all that in a span of a month.
India, led by the dynamic Mithali and packed with established names such as Jhulan Goswami, Harmanpreet Kaur, Veda Krishnamurthy among others, were fancied as a side that could make it to the last four at the outset of the tournament. From beating hosts England on the back of a top-order run-fest, the Indians embarked on a journey in which they won hearts along the way with their performances.
Perhaps the defining moment of the tournament was when Harmanpreet launched an all-out assault in the semi-final against Australia, decimating the defending champions' bowling attack to remain unbeaten on 171 from 115 balls, registering one of the finest knocks in the tournament's history.
Reaching the final would have occurred to them as a 'dream come true', and they were inches away from lifting the trophy when a brilliant Anya Shrubsole stopped them in their tracks, resulting in a heartbreaking nine-run loss. It wasn't quite a perfect ending for the Indians, but the massive turnout as well as record television viewership meant that it was a victory for women's cricket as a whole.
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