2018 has arguably been the year of Possibilities, Opportunities and at times Disappointment; not only for India but for the entire cricketing world. The way it has shaped up, despite the meticulous highs and terrible lows is indeed heartening. The competitiveness at all levels of international cricket for both men and women has been worth a keen look. A few commanding victories, a few astonishing upsets, a few horrible mistakes, a few stupendous knocks and a few fairy-tale finishes, the year gone by has sought all emotions, each worthy of an unforgettable memory.
It all started with the Aussies conquering the Ashes with a comprehensive 4-0 margin riding on the brilliance of Steve Smith and the Australian bowlers. However, the Australian fortunes were meant to switch sides. Caught tampering the ball strategically using a sandpaper in the consequent series against South Africa, the captain-vice captain duo of Steve Smith and David Warner along with young Cameron Bancroft were handed a periodic ban by Cricket Australia. The harsh decision remained in discussions for long, but wasn’t meant to change. In a hush-hush scenario, Australian cricket underwent grass-root changes and Tim Paine was roped in as the stand-in captain. Australia’s struggle, evident from South Africa itself continued through Pakistan in UAE and also against India at home. A solitary test win against India and and a well-worked draw against Pakistan was all the island nation could manage.
“The year is a real test of character for the Indians”, was reciprocated all around. India’s tours of South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand along with the Nidahas Trophy and Asia Cup deemed this to be one of the most challenging phases of Indian cricket. “It’s the best ever Indian team to travel overseas,” coach Shastri’s claims were bold but not completely untrue. Coming in on the back of a few stellar performances in 2017, 2018 was all about implementing right strategies. And to a large extent, India did live up to its expectations. Although India could not manage outright test series wins in South Africa and England, their determination, patience, grit and especially the fast-bowling talents drove India to historic wins. Dinesh Karthik’s last ball finish in the Nidahas’ finals, India’s commanding limited over victories against Proteas and the English and a well-deserved Asian champions title were a great highlight. Frequent shuffles in the batting order and incongruent contributions from India’s top order were the only worries jolting the Number-1 Test side. However, Kohli and Pujara’s dream run in Tests, former’s incredible display of skill in ODIs and Dhawans unmatched prowess in T20Is helped India firmly tackle all what came their way. More than 1300 runs in tests & an average of 135 in ODIs for Kohli this year overwhelmingly demonstrates his dominance. Retrospect, the best takeaway for India this year has been the fast bowling. Arrival of Jasprit Bumrah in tests has been a real revelation for India as him along with Ishant and Shami with an able support of Bhuvi and Umesh led India to an unparalleled bowling force. “It’s always the bowlers who win you matches in foreign conditions and to see India take all 20 wickets in 12 out of the 14 tests this year is immensely pleasing.” Rubbing off form from the seniors, a world cup win for the Shaw-led Indian colts added a certain silver lining to the Indian cloud.
Age is just a number but at times it forces reputed veterans to give up the sport. 2018 would definitely be remembered for on-field performances but also more so for the off-field declarations. Morne Morkel, Rangana Herath, Gautam Gambhir, Mohammad Kaif, Dwayne Bravo, Alastair Cook all bid their favorite game a farewell but the most shocking declaration came from Mr. 360 AB De Villiers. Giving up at the acme of his game, AB’s retirement has to still sink in. Though he was later seen punishing the ball to all parts in local cricket leagues, his absence from the international scene was strongly felt by South Africa as well as the entire world. A brighter side comes in with a fading shadow. Not too long but 2018 too had its own dark patch where the umpires were blamed for misjudging the front-foot, referees were criticized for misrating the pitch and the selectors were questioned for omitting a few key players from the side. Nevertheless, none of them transpired to be a big issue and cricket’s most fruitful year ensured that it ended on a pleasing note and of course, with an Indian Boxing Day victory!