2017 – YEAR IN REVIEW
Kaushik Rangarajan • Last updated on Fri, 29 Dec, 2017, 11:23 PM
Virat Kohli became the all-format skipper this year during which India scaled new highs in an extended home season. © BCCI
India made the loudest noise this year. But that’s as generic as stating Virat Kohli is a good batsman. In 2017, even as administrators continued to find wiggle room in the Supreme Court directive over the protracted Lodha committee saga, India reinforced their standing as the pre-eminent Test team, stretching their winning run to nine series – a feat only achieved hitherto by ‘that’ Ricky Ponting side. In fact, the only bilateral series they didn’t win through the year was a three-match T20I contest against Australia after the decider was washed out by rain and a one-off T20I against Windies in the Caribbean.
It was also a year when BCCI’s hulking crown threatened to slip off its head when the board was comprehensively outvoted at the ICC meeting over revenue model and governance structures. However, while India’s share of the global revenue pie came down a bit from the USD 570 million, the coffers were filled up beyond capacity by the eternal cash cow – IPL. Sale of title rights (INR 2199 crores for five years) and broadcast rights (INR 16,347.50 crores for five years) left everyone, including the BCCI, seem silly about haggling for that extra share off ICC revenue.
There were minor pitfalls along the way. India let slip another opportunity at landing an ICC trophy when they lost to Pakistan in the final. But the post-mortem of that defeat was dwarfed by a breakdown in communication between Kohli and then coach Anil Kumble. The saga eventually culminated with Kumble resigning and BCCI/CoA summoning the Advisory Committee for another head-hunting task.
One Kohli to rule them all
Indian cricket dived head first into 2017. On the second day of the year, the Supreme Court of justice in the country ordered the removal of the BCCI president Anurag Thakur and secretary Ajay Shirke and put instated a four-member Committee of Administrators (CoA) to run the board in the interim period. But shushing even the off-field shenanigans, arrived a media release from BCCI on January 5 that stated MS Dhoni’s decision to relinquish captaincy of the limited-overs teams. Tributes poured in for one of limited-overs greatest captains even as most agreed with the timing of transition. Kohli began his stint as all-format captain with a stunning hundred in a chase against England in Pune that paved the way for a 2-1 series win. He would also win the ensuing T20I series 2-1.
Australia arrived in the country with an unenviable recent corridor in the subcontinent (0-3 versus Sri Lanka) while Kohli warmed up with his fourth double hundred in as many series, against Bangladesh. But shattering all pre-series odds, Steve O’Keefe and Steve Smith sucker-punched India in Pune before India fought against the odds to hit back in a classic at Bengaluru. Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb held on, on a thrilling final day at Ranchi. The series was a gift that kept giving. If the action on the field wasn’t enough, there was the Smith ‘brain fade’, accusation of cheati** (I didn’t say it, you did), issues with broadcaster turning up the stump mics and insinuations of a team mocking an injured opposition captain. Everyone had a role to play. Eventually Ajinkya Rahane led India to a series-clinching victory at Dharamsala before politely turning down an invitation to share a drink with his worthy opposition.
Mumbai Indians – IPL team of the decade
When the 10th edition of the IPL began soon after that Australia series, it resembled a rather distasteful dessert after a sumptuous meal. It eventually ended in much fanfare with Mumbai Indians crowned as three-time champions, and arguably the team of the first decade.
Stunned by the old foe
India began their Champions Trophy in emphatic fashion with a customary win over Pakistan. Despite a shock defeat to Sri Lanka at The Oval, the batting troika of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli helped the side cruise to the final, where a different Pakistan confronted them. Fakhar Zaman benefited from Jasprit Bumrah’s flirtations with the popping crease and went on to score a famous hundred. Mohammad Amir then snuffed out the Big 3 in a dream first spell as Pakistan rewrote their ‘mercurial’ script.
Ravi Shastri teamed up with Kohli again as India readied itself for a challenging overseas season. © AFP
Exit ‘intimidating’ Kumble, Welcome back gregarious Shastri
Rumours of a rift between Kohli and head coach Anil Kumble had donned enough print space to distract from India’s Champions Trophy campaign. All along, BCCI stayed quiet and even put out applications for the head coach post, with Kumble supposedly getting “direct entry for the process” at the end of his one-year contract. Kumble opted out of that race with a cryptic farewell message on his Twitter handle. India won a limited-overs ODI series without a coach in the Caribbean and upon return had the affable Ravi Shastri thrust upon them once more after an elaborate election process involving the CoA and CAC.
The tour wash in Sri Lanka
Shastri’s reinitation programme began in the comfortable subcontinental climes of Sri Lanka. India swept aside their hospitable hosts in all the matches across the three formats, despite the odd scare from Akila Dananjaya in the limited-overs leg. Shikhar Dhawan filled his boots with truckloads of runs while Rohit, Kohli and Dhoni flexed their batting muscles at different stages with the bat.
Wrist over fingers
The ODIs in Sri Lanka also marked the beginning of India’s Mission 2019. The first step included a shift in the bowling mindset with wrist-spinners preferred over finger tweakers for their ability to attack. R Ashwin and Jadeja were originally assumed to have been rested in keeping with their workload but the rests extended uncomfortably through the Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka ODIs as Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal emerged as the new bowling hopes of an attack-minded captain.
The series also saw India turn their attention to another gnawing problem in ODIs – the No.4. The new Yo-Yo marker ruled Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and a host of other cricketers, opening the path for KL Rahul and Manish Pandey to make the spot their own. Dinesh Karthik would join this race later.
Batting might finds an able match
“Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah are the two best death bowlers in the world,” remarked Steve Smith after his side was overwhelmed 4-1 in the ODIs in India. With a death bowling combination of Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar to follow and two wrist spinners in tow, India followed that win with victories over New Zealand in ODIs and T20Is. Along the way, the batting continued to make merry. Kohli crossed 9000 runs and moved to second on the list of ODI centurions with his 31st and 32nd tons against New Zealand. Rohit matched him with the weight of his contributions while Rahane chipped in with runs every time he was called up in his role as back-up opener.
Rohit Sharma smashed the joint-fastest T20I ton against Sri Lanka in Indore. © BCCI
Captain Rohit and the return of the Lankans
After the hammering at home, when Sri Lanka arrived for a return series, there was trepidation of another whitewash. But the visitors gave a good account of themselves, by keeping India’s victory margins down to 1-0 and 2-1 in Tests and ODIs respectively. India weren’t as hospitable to their hosts despite resting Kohli for the limited-overs leg. The Delhi smog, Kohli’s back-to-back Test match double tons and captain Rohit’s third ODI double hundred all sank in like daggers into Sri Lankan hearts. Rohit followed that up with the joint-fastest T20I hundred to finish India’s 2017 with a 3-0 T20I series triumph.
Best performer: Virat Kohli
Who else? Although, Rohit ran him very close, the Indian captain finished with 1460 ODI runs at 76.84 including six hundreds. To go with that, he also had 1059 runs from 10 Tests at 75.64. The only blemish in another staggering year was the home Tests against Australia, where he finished with 46 runs from 5 innings with a top score of 15. At one stage towards the end of the year, Kohli was ranked No.1 in ODIs and T20Is and No.2 in Tests – behind only Steven Smith.
Disappointing Performer: Manish Pandey
There’s a lot to like about Manish Pandey. He is an earnest trier and scores mountains of runs in the domestic circuit. But it’s a travesty that he hasn’t been able to nail down a spot in the Indian ODI setup as yet. Despite being a victim of a dynamic middle-order, Pandey can have no qualms over the argument that he failed to hold down the spot after getting first dibs in the series against Australia, where he managed an aggregate of 83 runs at 27.67. There’s still time for Pandey but with Dinesh Karthik joining the fray and him not being able to double up as a bowler or a back-up ‘keeper could work against him if the runs don’t come.
Promising performer: Hardik Pandya
India’s hunt for a seam-bowling all-rounder is resting firmly in the Hardik Pandya station. Athletic, ability to bowl close to 140kph and hit the first ball faced for six, he offers India the complete package. He was fast-tracked into the Test side against Sri Lanka and duly made a century in his first series. His exploits with the bat in the Champions Trophy and the Australia series later in the year have elevated his role to that of an impact player – a one of a kind in an otherwise traditional team.
Looking forward to 2018
India have milked their long home run through 2016 and 17, losing just one Test (at Pune) through their dominant run amidst a handful of ODIs and T20Is. Now the cycle turns. They will be on the road in 2018-19 in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand in unfamiliar climes. If they can replicate even half of this success in those countries, they’ll go down as one of the most balanced teams ever assembled.
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