The year 2016 saw democracy play truant twice, terror attacks become more common than thunderstorms, and more music stars meeting their maker than fans would like. As always though, it was sport that provided the escape, the succor, and the salve.
This year threw up some wonderful sports stories. Leicester City become first-time winners of the Premier League, beating the kind of odds we might place on pigs piloting PSLVs. Cleveland Cavaliers scripted their own first, Lebron James leading them to the NBA title, breaking the ‘Cleveland curse’. And in the first year of the Women’s Big Bash League, Sydney Thunder became the first club to win both men’s and women’s Big Bash, a record that will take some repeating.
Judging by how 2016 started, it could also have been the year the Indian women's cricket team finally ended their drought of world championships. Alas, that was not to be. But there were some boxes that India did tick, some for the first time.
Here's a look back at how India shaped up in 2016.
Contracts, at last: India came into 2016 as one of the last few countries to implement contracts for their female teams. It was a financial and confidence boost for India’s top 11 players, with others who played more than three international games also included over the course of the year.
Series win Down Under: On the field, India began with a bang, beating Australia in Australia in a T20I on Republic Day – their first win against the then World T20 Champions since 2012, and only the second ever. India’s batting and fielding – usually both gloriously inconsistent and inconsistently glorious – helped them seal the series in the second game, marking the first ever series win against Australia, home or away, in any format. More importantly, these games were televised, and the world could clearly see that India were playing a more positive, less fearful brand of cricket. Even the loss of the ODI series 1-2 could not take the shine off that tour.
It was also the first time all three T20Is on that tour were double headers with the men’s team, and it was special to see both the men and the women claim the series in the second T20I at the MCG.
Strong follow up: Soon after in February, India blanked Sri Lanka 3-0 in both an ODI and T20I series at home (despite an abominable outfield), and were leading up strongly to the World Cup.
Historic whitewash: Late in the year, India stole a rare series sweep against a top-six opponent, when they blanked WT20 champions West Indies in the ODIs at home. Both this series and the ODIs against Sri Lanka were the part of the ICC Women’s Championship, and India put themselves in a chance to qualify for the top four slots that meant automatic qualification for next year’s Women’s World Cup.
Asia Cup: In November, India made sure that their undefeated streak in the Asia Cup remained intact, when they beat Pakistan in the final at Bangkok. India have held the Asia Cup title since its inception in 2004.
WBBL: For the first time, India had two players in WBBL. Harmanpreet Kaur was snapped up by defending champions Sydney Thunder, while Smriti Mandhana was selected by Brisbane Heat.
Women's team of the year: Smriti Mandhana also became the only Indian to feature in the first ever ICC’s women’s team of the year for 2016. The left hander had scored her first ODI century on the tour to Australia at the start of the year.
Twitter account: India women got their own Twitter handle, after suffering the ignominy of scores being tweeted from the BCCI domestic handle in the latter half of the year.
World T20 loss: As often happens in sport, the low of the year came just a few months after the high, on the biggest stage. With India enjoying home conditions in the WT20 2016, and all four of India’s group games being slotted before the men’s games on television, the talk was all about how this was India’s time. Mithali Raj even said how winning the WT20 might precipitate a women’s IPL. Perhaps it was this very hype that proved to be India’s undoing. A deer-in-the-headlights game against Pakistan, where timid batting saw India suffer a rare loss to their neighbours, started the slide. In the end, it was the West Indies, not India, who deservedly scripted another first-time-fairlytale in 2016.
No consistent telecast: India put in some of their best team performances in the series against the West Indies, with both the batting and bowling units turning up in the ODIs to claim the series win. Even in the T20Is – despite being outplayed by the visitors – the team put in some good individual performances, with Harmanpreet Kaur getting 171 runs in three games. But none of those could be seen by anyone other than the few hundreds at the ground in Viajayawada. The series was not televised, since the men were hosting England at the time. But the lack of any video recording, or live streaming, underlined a big opportunity missed. Even highlights from a competitive series like that would have made great viewing on social media, and great publicity for the women’s team.
India vs Pakistan: With the series sweep against West Indies, India could have snuck into the top four in the ICC Women’s Championship, ensuring automatic qualification for the World Cup. The only remaining series was against Pakistan. But when that series never took place due to political tensions between the nations, India conceded those points, and finished fifth. However, news reports suggesting that points might have been shared had the BCCI responded promptly to the ICC’s enquiry, left supporters wondering what could have been.
Everything In Between:
Captaincy Change: In October, the Indian selectors, for the first time ever, introduced a dual captaincy system. Perhaps with an eye on the 2017 ODI Women’s World Cup, Mithali Raj was retained as ODI skipper, while vice captain Harmanpreet Kaur was elevated to T20I captaincy. Although there was no comment on the decision from either BCCI or the selectors, it seems that a succession plan is in place for the future. In turn, Harmanpreet has scored 231 runs in seven games as captain, and claimed her first trophy in the Asia Cup.
Social media footprint: The Indian team has gained a bigger profile this year, courtesy of televised games, greater print advertising, and some sporadic publicity from the BCCI. Players like Veda Krishnamurthy (almost 4000 Twitter followers) and Mithali Raj (3,16,264 Facebook followers) have seen a spurt in their fan bases this year, giving us an idea of the potential such athletes have, both as role models and star attractions.
— BCCI (@BCCI) March 3, 2016
After the WT20 in March, India played no international cricket for seven months, the team in abeyance, until the series against the West Indies in November. With such long gaps between series, it becomes even more imperative for the women’s team to have friendly tours, and an India A program, where players could use these gaps to for A tours to gain experience.
— Anurag Thakur (@ianuragthakur) December 19, 2016
The author, Snehal Pradhan, is a former women's international cricketer and tweets at @SnehalPradhan
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Updated Date: Dec 27, 2016 12:12:10 IST