Was the last 12 months successful for India?
Updated: Apr 13, 2019
On January 5, 2018, India played South Africa in the first test in Cape Town. For India, it wasn't just the first day of a three test series, it was the first day of a huge 12 months of test cricket on the road. Against the big 3 away from their fortress at home. With 2 series losses, an eventual series win in Australia, India end the 12 months on a high. However overall, was it a successful year and what have they learned?
We will answer if it was a success or not later. But first let's look at what they learned.
One clear lesson they learned was their change in mentality with regards to their middle order. The team now revolves around Pujara at three, Kohli at four and Rahane at five. Everyone else fits in around this. In doing so India look to have acknowledged that they made a mistake in not picking Rahane for the first test in South Africa, and not picking Pujara for the first test in England. All batsmen will have a poor run of form, and these two did, but the class batsmen do not become bad overnight, and more faith perhaps needed to be shown to these staples of the Indian batting line up. By the time they arrived in Australia, Shastri and Kohli had worked this out.
In South Africa India used 2 wicket keepers and batted them in a variety of positions in the batting order. In England they picked Dinesh Karthik before switching to Rishabh Pant. The shifting of their keeper around the batting order by the Australia series had disappeared. Pant was batting at 7 and not being moved up and down for any reason. India's wicket keepers, when not batting at 7, made 65 runs at an average of 7.22. Every time they shifted the keeper around it didn't work. By the 4th test in England it looked as though the penny dropped with Kohli and Shastri. Pant has been kept in a stable position in the batting order and been outstanding.
India have discovered they have a new bowling leader in Jasprit Bumrah. With a run up and action you wouldn't teach to anyone learning fast bowling, his raw talent has been allowed to come through and succeed in his first year at the highest level. India also seem very conscious of managing Bumrah, as with an action that looks strenuous on his right shoulder, he may need a lot of rest and recovery between test matches. However if he stays fit, he could be a real asset for India over the years to come.
Virat Kohli is a work in progress as a captain. It's been interesting to observe that his celebrations of wickets in Melbourne and Sydney have been more controlled, certainly compared to many a time in South Africa, England, and early on in the Australian series. Whether he remains an in- control and calm captain, or reverts back to the wild hollering celebratory captain remains to be seen , but the calmer Kohli is more beneficial to India. He may be maturing as a leader.
The last thing India would have learned is they simply have a good enough team to win in all places. Their skipper has led them with the bat, but hasn't had enough support on the first two tours. They have the bowlers to now produce test wins. Bumrah has been a find and Ishant and Shami have been in career best form. They have improved their bowling in 2018 and there is no reason why they can't keep that going in the years ahead. If Shaw and Agarwal can provide protection and stability at the top, their three older heads in the middle can do the rest. Whether it's Pandya, Vihari or Sharma at 6 will be dependent on form and conditions. It will be their challenge to get that right in 2019. It's the only position that isn't nailed down now in this top order.
So was the last 12 months a success for India? The answer is neither yes or no. To win one overseas tour, especially the last one, means they end the year on a good note. It takes the pressure off the coach who would have faced the axe if the year produced three losses out of as many series. Also for captain Kohli, who doesn't hide the significance of what test cricket means to him and the legacy he wants to leave behind, to be the first sub- continent leader to win Down Under will be remembered for a long time to come. People will mention it was against a weakened team, but that was out of Kohli's control. What he could control, he did to the point of a series win.
India were competitive on the other two tours. With more support for their captain with the bat, who was way out ahead of second best, was where they ultimately lost both series. It left India with a bit of a 'what could have been' feeling, which they will still feel a little disappointed about.
One thing India did leave behind in 2018 were three excellent test series for the cricket fan. Gone was the white flag they hoisted when Michael Clarke made a triple century at the SCG in 2012 type of India. Gone was the innings losses they had suffered at times in England (Lords last year they got caught on a wicket that was just doing too much). They were competitive throughout the 12 months, and deserved their win Down Under.
Indian fans can be proud of their team and with Shaw, Pant, Agarwal and Bumrah all debuting at test level in these 12 months, they can be optimistic for the future.