Winds of change at the top

Winds of change at the top

As usual, there was no paucity of drama in Indian cricket. While there were plenty of gains on the field with the young Indian Test side, under Virat Kohli, taking confident strides forward, events off the field stole much of the limelight.

The shake up in the BCCI’s corridors of power saw N Srinivasan’s spectacular fall from grace even as his friend-turned-bitter foe, Shashank Manohar, took reins of the Indian Board as well as that of the International Cricket Council. The scope of this piece, however, will be limited to India’s on-field performances that were heartening without being extraordinary.

The Indian team entered the new year with Kohli leading the side in the Sydney Test following the dramatic retirement of MS Dhoni from the longer version at end of 2014 (December 30 to be precise).

While India barely managed to save the match, it also saw the emergence of KL Rahul, the Karnataka opener stroking his way to a century after a horrible debut in the previous Test at the MCG. With the Test series over, it was time for a long spell of limited overs cricket that included the World Cup, jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

Having quit Tests, MS Dhoni returned to lead the side in the tri-series which included hosts Australia and England. India crashed out of the tournament without winning a single match that cast a huge cloud on their defence of the World Cup. Dhoni’s prowess as a batsman appeared to be waning while the likes of Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, the fulcrum of India’s batting in the preceding Tests, looked jaded after an intense series.

The warm-up matches weren’t encouraging either even as Dhoni decided to stay with the team Down Under rather than be with his wife Sakshi, who delivered their first child.

Once the World Cup began, India appeared to be a different outfit altogether notching up one dominant win after another before the eventual champions Australia (who else?) ended their run in the semifinals. Until that lop-sided match, India were the talk of the tournament apart from New Zealand, who made their maiden World Cup final.

The Indian fans thronged each of the venues in thousands, creating an electric atmosphere never seen before at a cricket match in that part of the world. So overwhelming was the support for the Indian team that Dhoni and his team-mates made it a point to thank them in almost all their media commitments.

It was a shame that the team didn’t progress to the final where the Indian fans constituted a significant number despite many of them selling off their tickets after their team’s exit.
With the team failing to defend the coveted crown, the whispers to replace Dhoni slowly began to take root and found some credence when India lost to Bangladesh 1-2 in the three match ODI series despite fielding a full-fledged side.

With Kohli hard- selling his “aggressive” captaincy, campaign to oust a “defensive” Dhoni attracted more supporters.

As Kohli led India to their first Test series win (2-1) in Sri Lanka in 22 years, the efforts to oust Dhoni became only stronger. The continued downward spiral of India’s stock in limited-overs cricket under Dhoni and positive results in Tests under Kohli didn’t help the Jharkhandi’s cause.

The defeat to South Africa in both the ODI and T20I series at home was disappointing and barring the Indore match, Dhoni struggled with the bat as well. While rumours of Dhoni’s possible ejection grew stronger in the aftermath of India’s 3-0 drubbing of South Africa in the Test series, the selectors nixed all those speculations by appointing Dhoni as limited overs captain till next year’s WorldT20 which will be held in India. The move should put an end to uncertainty, if any, within the team.

The year, though, wasn’t just about such off-field shenanigans. While India’s away Test series triumph in Lanka was no mean achievement by a young side, their trouncing of the World No 1 side at home was comparable to the one against Australia in 2001 – not in terms of quality of cricket but certainly when it came to significance.

The victory, however, was overshadowed by the talk around pitches that favoured the spinners. Two of the three completed matches ended inside three days with the Indian spinners running rings around SA batsmen who lacked both skill and spunk against the turning ball.

While India stoutly defended the nature of the surfaces, the ICC issued an official warning on the “poor” state of the Nagpur wicket.

On the brighter note, the two series – against Lanka and SA – saw Ravichandran Ashwin re-emerge as the bowling hero. He was the architect of India’s wins in both series, taking a bucketful of wickets with handy support from Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra. In the batting front, Ajinkya Rahane grew as an all-weather batsman, providing both solidity and urgency in the middle-order.

He also showed he is a selfless cricketer, just like his mentor Rahul Dravid, playing out of his comfort zone for the team’s sake and excelling as well. On the contrary, Rohit Sharma continued to squander his chances in Tests, leaving one wonder if the team management’s faith in the right-hander’s technique and temperament in the longer version is somewhat misplaced.

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