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Kohli's demolition men

From Madhu Jawali, DHNS, Dec 24 2017, 0:48 IST
The likes of Virat Kohlis, Rohit Sharmas and R Ashwins momentarily had to cede the  spotlight to Mithalis, Jhulan Goswamis, Harmanpreet Kaurs, Smriti Mandanas and Veda Krishnamurthys. PTI File Photo

The likes of Virat Kohlis, Rohit Sharmas and R Ashwins momentarily had to cede the spotlight to Mithalis, Jhulan Goswamis, Harmanpreet Kaurs, Smriti Mandanas and Veda Krishnamurthys. PTI File Photo

It was an eventful year for both Indian men's and women's cricket. While the men continued from where they had left the previous year, especially in Tests, women's cricket received a great fillip when the Mithali Raj-led team came close to lifting the eves' World Cup (50 overs) only to miss it by a whisker, losing a closely-fought final against England. That briefly stole the thunder from men's cricket which in itself was a great accomplishment. The likes of Virat Kohlis, Rohit Sharmas and R Ashwins momentarily had to cede the spotlight to Mithalis, Jhulan Goswamis, Harmanpreet Kaurs, Smriti Mandanas and Veda Krishnamurthys.

While women's cricket hit headlines for all the right reasons, men's cricket was in news as much for its on-field success as for its off-field controversies. The cold war between the then head coach Anil Kumble and skipper Kohli, eventually leading to the former's unfortunate resignation from the post, briefly overshadowed the team's achievements but Indian cricket has moved on. In fact, it has sauntered along, without being challenged on equal footing by all comers.

The year began with MS Dhoni relinquishing captaincy in limited-overs cricket and thus facilitating the elevation of Kohli as the leader in all three formats. Having enjoyed an 18-Test unbeaten run till 2016, Kohli tasted immediate success as the full-time captain in the shorter version too, beating England by an identical margin of 2-1 in both ODIs and T20Is. This was followed by one of the bitterest of series (against Australia) ever fought on Indian soil when not a single day appeared to pass without a controversy. From the Indian camp accusing Aussie skipper Steve Smith of seeking dressing-room advice to take a review after his dismissal in Bengaluru to Aussies mocking Kohli's shoulder injury to Smith calling M Vijay a cheat for claiming a catch off the turf in Dharamsala, the series grabbed as much attention for controversies as for the riveting cricket the two teams dished out.

Aussies are the only side to visit India in the last two years and challenge their hegemony in these conditions. Till Australia stunned them in Pune on a rank turner, India had gone 19 Tests without losing any of them since their 3-0 triumph in Sri Lanka in 2015. They finally met their match and that the series was decided in the final Test bore testimony to the competitive nature of the series.

After two months of IPL following the series against Australia, India had a stirring run to the final at the Champions Trophy in England. Favourites to win the title, India were humbled by arch-rivals Pakistan in the final in what was the only major setback for India in an otherwise highly successful year. Soon after the final, Kumble quit as the head coach citing untenable differences with the skipper. It was a bitter end to a successful coach-captain combination. After a selection process that triggered plenty of heat, Ravi Shastri, the former team director, was back as the head coach.

India did consolidate their position at the top of the Test rankings but they could have done with some tougher tests against better quality sides than a listless Lanka against whom they played six Tests in the space of five months both away and home. India, for the first time in their cricketing history, clean-swept a team in all three formats when they vanquished the Islanders 9-0 (three Tests, five ODIs and one T20I) in their own den.

The tour of Lanka also witnessed an interesting turn of events insofar as limited-overs' combination is concerned. What started as a "rest" and "rotation" policy which kept Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin out of the shorter version part of the Lankan tour was extended to the whole year. Now, it's more or less confirmed that as far as this team management is concerned, the spin duo, which is still an integral part of Test squad, is out of limited-overs' scheme of things. And with their replacements €“ Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav and Axar Patel €“ doing exceedingly well, Ashwin and Jadeja donning blue colours again appears a distant possibility at the moment.

Talking of ODI cricket, India once again won all the bilateral series this year. They beat England, Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka (both home and away) that clearly established them as the top-ranked side in ODIs too. The rising Indian fortunes coincided with the phenomenal climb of Kohli both as captain and batsman. The only player to average 50-plus in all three formats, Kohli is perhaps the best batsman in the world at the moment when you take all the formats. While he and the Indian team have had a great run in the last two years in familiar conditions, bigger challenges await them as they embark on the tour of South Africa, England and Australia in the next one year or so. While they deserve all the accolades for their consistent good shows in the last two years, their true greatness will be judged based on their success in these countries.

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