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Monday, Nov 18, 2019

Cricket rewind 2017: Virat Kohli & Co build-up for big battles

Virat Kohli’s grand run led India’s show but it was seen as an appetiser for the main course — win abroad.

cricket Updated: Dec 29, 2017 09:46 IST
N Ananthanarayanan
N Ananthanarayanan
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The Virat Kohli-led Indian cricket team had a marvellous year and ended 2017 as the world No.1 team.
The Virat Kohli-led Indian cricket team had a marvellous year and ended 2017 as the world No.1 team.(PTI)

For Indian cricket, 2017 was the second half of a long and successful prelude, building up for arguably the most anticipated phase in the history of the country’s game.

For a second year, India played mostly at home. Nothing exemplified the domination better than the batting of skipper Virat Kohli, who also demanded his teammates push the boundary of efficiency. The No 1 Test team built an enviable record — they have now lost just one of the 23 Tests played since 2016 with 16 wins, 11 in 2017.

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But never have battles on familiar turf been so much about providing context as India are determined to cash in on the depth of talent in overseas challenges, starting with the South Africa tour in January. The team showed intent for two years, across formats, warming up to Kohli’s leadership. However, it signed off 2017 worried about a packed schedule and called off a warm-up tie before the first Test starts on January 5.

Kohli admires Australia’s aggressive playing style and wants India to buy into that. Players raising fitness levels along with skills is part of that drive. But two contests left India with a sobering thought.

Aussies sting

Steve Smith’s Australia gave the hosts their first jolt — India’s lone Test defeat in the last two years came at Pune — with the visiting skipper’s great century on a rank turner setting it up for spinners Steve O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon. India rallied to win the Border-Gavaskar trophy 2-1, but Kohli had his only dip in two years — 46 runs in five innings. He hurt his shoulder and missed the decider in Dharamsala, which India won easily.

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Old rivals Pakistan caused the other dent in the ICC Champions Trophy final at Oval, after holders India had won the group clash. Left-arm pacer Mohammad Amir removed the top three, including Kohli, for five runs.

Hardik Pandya provided the silver lining with a 43-ball 76 . He was the biggest gain in 2017 for India, searching for a pace-bowling all-rounder in Kapil Dev’s mould.

Those two blips would have provided key lessons to Kohli’s team — India are yet to win Test/ODI series in South Africa — who expressed the ambition to tame tough rivals on their turf, even seeking seaming pitches for the Sri Lanka Tests.

But India’s grand run was a lot about one man’s push for excellence. Kohli piled on the runs across formats. His sensational fitness — the Yo-Yo test became the mantra — stood out as he claimed the record for most Test double centuries by a skipper. Kohli’s sixth double in 18 months, in the Delhi Test against Sri Lanka, took him past Brian Lara’s record for a captain. He drew level with Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag (6 each). Kohli the ‘run machine’ had aggregated more than 1000 Test runs for the year, only behind Cheteshwar Pujara. The India skipper was No 2 in the ICC Test rankings, with only Smith ahead.

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Kohli was exceptional in ODIs too while staying conventional in his batting. His back-to-back hundreds in Sri Lanka were remarkable due to the sapping humidity alone. India completed a 9-0 tour rout.

This team will be rated India’s finest ever if they achieve success in the toughest three tours that await Virat Kohli and Co — England and Australia follow South Africa.

Depth in all departments came to the fore. The musical chairs among openers and pacers, both vital to win abroad, gladdened experts. KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay are jockeying as much as Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma. The pacers proved they are arguably the best in the world over the last two years. The big fight is on over spin as well. R Ashwin was fastest to 300 Test wickets . But he and Ravindra Jadeja were edged out of ODIs and T20s by wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal.

BCCI was clumsy dealing with the Kohli-Anil Kumble feud and the fallout of the pollution-hit Delhi Test against Sri Lanka.