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Pakistan, Australia serve moments to savour

From Madhu Jawali, DHNS, Dec 24 2017, 0:42 IST
This is the first Ashes triumph for Australia under Steve Smith whose emergence as one of the premier batsmen in the world has been nothing less than phenomenal. Reuters File Photo

This is the first Ashes triumph for Australia under Steve Smith whose emergence as one of the premier batsmen in the world has been nothing less than phenomenal. Reuters File Photo

From Pakistan winning the Champions Trophy against all expectations to West Indies pulling off an upset Test win against England to Australia regaining the Ashes, international cricket had its moments in the year 2017 but by and large, it remained subdued.

Apart from the series between India and Australia, the only two other big-ticket bilateral series were the one involving England and South Africa and the other being the ongoing Ashes. And barring the India vs Australia clash, where off-field drama was only matched by the intense cricket on the field, the other two series failed to evoke same passions and interest. While England whipped South Africa 3-1 to win the Basil D'Oliveira Trophy, Australia have already clinched the Ashes with two more Tests to go.

This is the first Ashes triumph for Australia under Steve Smith whose emergence as one of the premier batsmen in the world has been nothing less than phenomenal. From being an aspiring leg-spinner in the mould of Shane Warne to becoming arguably the finest Test batsman at the moment, Smith's career has seen an incredible turnaround. While he came nowhere near Warne as a wrist spinner, his batting exploits are earning him comparisons with Sir Don Bradman. With an average of over 62 after close to 60 Tests, Smith is some distance away from Bradman's iconic average of 99.94 after 52 Tests, but in these times, when anything above 50 is considered great, the Aussie skipper has been exceptional in maintaining such high average.

Amidst these one-sided affairs, the few bright spots were Pakistan's victorious run at the Champions Trophy. Pakistan are no longer the same force, but their famous unpredictability is still intact and that saw them dethrone India who were the reigning champions and overwhelming favourites to retain the trophy. But Pakistan upset India's applecart to bring cheer to scores of their fans who had last witnessed a big win from their side at the 2009 World T20 in England.

Doubling Pakistan's joy was the return of international cricket to their country where no foreign team had travelled to since the 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore. While Zimbabwe set the precedent by playing a limited-overs series in 2016, the tour by a World XI to the trouble-torn country under the leadership of Faf du Plessis was looked at as a big boost to Pakistan's effort to get international teams visit the country for bilateral series. Pakistan's old cricketing ally, Sri Lanka, further strengthened their cause by sending their team, albeit a depleted one, for a T20I.

While Pakistan had these encouraging moments to cherish, their neighbours Afghanistan became the fifth Asian nation to get the Test status. The war-hit country is slated to play their first Test against India sometime next year. Along with Afghanistan, the other team to attain Test status was Ireland thus taking the number of Test-playing nations to 12.

England eves triumph

England women, meanwhile, lived up to their billing by winning the women's 50-over World Cup but not before enduring some anxious moments as India came within sniffing distance of win but imploded under pressure.

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