Kolkata: A memorable international season of four months for Indian cricket came to an end on a high as they wrapped up the One-day International series 2-1 against England, the reigning world champions in the format, on Sunday.
The expectations were not that high when an already bubble-weary jumbo Indian squad left the shores of the UAE for Australia - in less than 24 hours after the Indian Premier League (IPL) final in Dubai on November 10. After negotiating a cramped white ball series quickly, India were off to a nightmarish start in the Test series against Australia when they collapsed to 36 all out in the Pink Ball Test in Adelaide - their lowest ever total in Tests.
More than three months later, that result looks more like a bad dream. The Indian team bounced back in a miraculous fashion to edge past the hosts 2-1 to win the Test series as they returned home to a heroes’ welcome in January. A demanding Test series against England started on a poor note again with a defeat, but the hosts soon picked up the pieces to win the Test series 3-1 - though the triumph was besmirched by talk of under-prepared wickets in at least two of the Test matches.
India then went to claim both the white ball series against England, albeit in more evenly contested battles than the Tests - to wrap up a memorable four months of punishing schedule and bubble life. As the cricketers take a short breather before plunging onto the IPL, Gulf News takes a look at five of the positives to draw from during the series:
Rishabh Pant comes of age, finally
It’s a difficult task to single out any individual player for special praise during this phase, but the most talked about performer - across all formats - had been certainly Rishabh Pant. After polarising opinions about his abilities for more than last three years since his international debut, it’s been a Pant 2.0 since the tour of Australia - and no wonder that he has started to evoke comparisons with the one and only Adam Gilchrist. While it’s presumptious to say so, Pant has turned to be real matchwinner with the bat - whose fearless innings of 97 and 89 not out played a key role in helping the team draw in Sydney and then breach the Gabba fortress in Brisbane, respectively.
Interestingly enough, some have also found shades of Virender Sehwag in his batting - and the team management must have also realised that there is no point in trying to ask him to curb his shot selection. The wicketkeeping, which sees him engage in constant banter from behind the stumps to needle the focus of the rival batsmen, have improved noticeably - though it still needs improvement against quality spinners.
One thing at a time, but there is no doubt that Pant has really arrived.
Ashwin re-discovers his mojo
It’s not easy to re-discover oneself as a cricketer at 34 years, after one has been already adjudged as the ICC Cricketer of the Year and Test Cricketer of the Year five years ago. This is where Ashwin deserves all the credit - first by busting the age-old myth of him not performing enough in overseas countries. His spells against Steve Smith, where he accounted for his wickets thrice, was one of the best as he managed to take 12 wickets from six innings at an average of 28.8 with a best of 4/55. Moving on to the Test series against England, he was simply unplayable to end with 32 wickets in the four-Test series - one of the highest ever by any Indian bowler against England.
This is only half the story as the way he batted in both Australia and against England were remarkable - with two timely centuries coming as a result of right technique, patience and application. With Ashwin being one of the few Indian spinners who can bowl with the new ball (he will surely be doing it during the IPL), there is enough case for a renewed call to include the senior pro in India’s future white ball scheme of things, including the T20 World Cup this year.
Pace attack: New talent and the return of Bhuvi
It had been nothing short of a revelation. In Australia, where India kept on losing the frontline pace bowlers like Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah due to injuries in the Test series and Ishant Sharma was not present, it was left to the untested Mohammed Siraj to lead the pace attack. The effervescent Hyderabad pace bowler, gifted with an ability to move the ball, ended the series as the leading wicket-taker for India with 13 scalps from six innings at an average of 29.5.
Back in India, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar’s form had been an extremely heartening feature during the two white ball series against England. Back into international cricket after exactly a year (he suffered an injury early on during IPL 2020 and couldn’t take part further), ‘Bhuvi’ seems to have come back stronger and lost none of his abilities to swing the ball - the gem of an inswinger which claimed in-form Jason Roy in final one-dayer on Sunday being an example. Shardul Thakur, with his guile and change of pace, is a handy customer while Prasidh Krishna is capable of bringing the X-factor with his speed and bounce.
Rohit Sharma: Not just the white ball king
Rohit Sharma, who had been often accused of not applying himself enough in his role of the Test opener, showcased a range of new skillsets during the Test series against England. Stung by criticism from the legendary Sunil Gavaskar for falling to a rash stroke, Rohit brought into play some assured footwork on rank turners and positive strokeplay in scoring a masterly 161 in the second Test against England in Chennai - which set India on road to bouncing back in the series.
In the third Test - the pink ball affair in Ahmedabad - the Mumbai batsman again conducted a masterclass in scoring 66. There is an element of question mark about the partner of Rohit in Tests, what with Shubman Gill looking short on confidence against incoming deliveries of the experienced England pacemen after having a good debut series in Australia. However, with the IPL coming up in less than two weeks’ time and no Test matches due in a while, India have enough time to sort out the problem.
What now for Shami, Jadeja?
The happy problem of choices, as captains of cricket teams often put it, is turning out to be quite an embarrassing one for Kohli & Co. A checklist of around 18 players, posted by noted statistician Mohandas Menon on his Facebook account, were absent during India’s emphatic win in the first One-day International against Pune and yet it made no difference. It’s quite an acknowledgement about the depth of talent in Indian cricket now - so much so that certain regular members will have to prove themselves all over again.
Mohammed Shami, billed as their leading new ball bowler in Tests, had been in the sidelines after getting injured in the hand while batting in the Adelaide Test. Ravindra Jadeja, their top spinning allrounder, suffered a freak injury on the thumb while fielding in the third Test and had to undergo a surgery in Australia. Both the experienced campaigners are fit now and expected to turn out for their respective franchises in the IPL, but there is no guarantee that they would be automatic choices in the following international fixtures.
While the fast bowling department is overflowing with talent, the likes of Axar Patel and Krunal Pandya may make the road to recall for Jadeja a difficult one. These are really exciting times for Indian cricket, it seems.