Frank Sinatra's song 'My Way' could very well define the career of MS Dhoni, both as a player and as a captain. His decision to pass the baton to Virat Kohli in limited overs cricket in the beginning of 2017 once again showed how Dhoni can be expected to come up with the unexpected both on and off the field.
It came as a surprise but not as a shock though. Virat Kohli had just led India to a resounding Test series win over England and had looked every bit comfortable with the twin burdens of leadership and being the best batsman of the team.
January also witnessed a landmark decision from the Supreme Court as it removed the BCCI top brass for not complying with the apex court's decision regarding the implementation of the Lodha Committee reforms. Anurag Thakur's tenure as BCCI president came to an abrupt end and cricket administration in the country was handed over to a Committee of Administrators, headed by former Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai, in the months that followed.
Make Merry When at Home
Virat Kohli by now has become a batsman on auto-pilot mode in subcontinental conditions. His ability to calculate a chase, however big the target might be, is frightening for opposition teams. He started his tenure as India's ODI captain with a high quality knock of 122 as India chased down 350 at Pune. Kohli's thunder though was stolen by Kedar Jadhav, who slammed a 76-ball 120.
Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni turned the clock back in Cuttack with a 250-run plus stand, reminiscent of the first decade of the century when these two men made mincemeat of opposition attacks, as India sealed the one-dayers. England won the last ODI and also the first T20I, threatening to take something away from their tour, but the brilliance of Jasprit Bumrah and Yuzvendra Chahal in the shortest format meant the Men in Blue had won it all.
Bangladesh hardly posed any challenge in the one off Test as Kohli's boys geared up for the year's biggest Test series against Steven Smith's Australia with another victory.
Billed as a contest between modern cricket's two best batsmen, who were also making their mark as leaders of men, the Test series started with Steven Smith's Australia exposing the current Indian team's lack of expertise in handling quality spin bowling on a track that did a bit. Late bloomer Steve O'Keefe's match haul of 12 wickets, coupled with a second innings ton from Smith's willow, meant Kohli and India came crashing down to earth in Pune.
The second Test in Bengaluru followed a similar script as KL Rahul (90) was once again the only Indian player to get past the fifty-run mark in the first innings. This time the hosts were made to look like school-boys by off spinner Nathan Lyon, who accounted for 8 wickets. Ravindra Jadeja's 6-for ensured Australia's lead was under 100 runs. KL Rahul stood firm with another half-century but it was the grit and patience of Cheteshwar Pujara which lifted the hosts out of despair. Pujara' knock of 92 and Ajinkya Rahane's laboured, yet effective, knock of 52 gave the Indian bowlers something to bowl at in the fourth innings.
The match ended on the fourth day as Ashwin made the most of the deteriorating track as he picked up 6 wickets. The Baggy Greens were bowled out for 112. The bitterness between the two teams came out in the open after Indian captain Virat Kohli accused his counterpart of trying to take assistance from the dressing room regarding a DRS call after being adjudged LBW. The post match press conferences led to allegations and counter allegations and with the series all square, the remaining two matches were expected to be fiery affairs.
The third Test at Ranchi ended in a draw as Pujara's double century cancelled out Smith's unbeaten 178. Glenn Maxwell and Wriddhiman Saha were the other two centurions but the innings of match came from the blade of Peter Handscomb, whose unbeaten 72 off 200 deliveries halted India's charge towards victory.
The final Test saw the scenic venue of Dharamsala make its Test debut. With the series on the line, India were forced to go into the match without skipper Kohli, who had injured his shoulder, while fielding in Ranchi. Rahane led the hosts in the decider but it was the opposition captain who was making a big statement with the bat. Another century from Smith carried Australia to 300 despite debutant chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav's four-wicket burst.
Smith's ability to adjust to different playing surfaces and match situations reminded Indian fans of the brilliance of Alastair Cook in the 2012 tour, another captain who had led and batted with poise. But Smith wasn't destined to be a winner like Cook as a second innings collapse gave India a target of 106 to chase down to win the series, which they did with 8 wickets in hand to wrest back the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
IPL 2017 - Supergiant Smith Shines But Mumbai Have the Last Laugh
The Indian Premier League kicked off with several top stars missing out the initial stages of the tournament after a long home season. Many Indian stars opted to not go full tilt as the tournament was followed by the all important Champions Trophy.
Steven Smith, given charge of 2016's laggards Rising Pune Supergiant in place of MS Dhoni, made yet another statement by inspiring the team to qualify for the knockouts.
But the story of the season was yet another strong showing by Mumbai Indians, who finished top of the table. The Maharashtra teams contested the final and when Mumbai scored only 129 after batting first, the writing was on the wall.
Smith played another captain's hand with a knock of 51 but a brilliant final over by veteran Mitchell Johnson gave Mumbai a one-run victory as they became the first team to win the IPL for the third time.
Manohar Stumps BCCI
BCCI's reign as the big brother of international cricket came to an end as the International Cricket Council, under chairman Shashank Manohar, passed a new revenue model which drastically cut down BCCI's share. The erstwhile Big Three - BCCI, ECB and CA - was dismantled even as the Indian board remained first among equals with the lion's share of the pie, owing to its financial clout and the demand for the game in the country.
What was embarrassing though was that the new model was passed with a 13 to 1 vote which showed that BCCI didn't have the support any other member board. There was some opposition with sections of the BCCI threatening to boycott ICC tournaments. Better sense prevailed soon and the team for the Champions Trophy was announced.
The Kumble-Kohli Rift Overshadows Champions Trophy Run
Just as the team got ready to defend its crown, in what was the first ICC tournament under Kohli's leadership, stories emerged of the captain's strained relations with coach Anil Kumble. Both men maintained a stoic silence ahead of the big tournament but their body language gave away their discomfiture in each other's presence.
India though started their title defense in style against arch rivals Pakistan with an easy victory. A blip against Sri Lanka momentarily gave jitters to the fans but a resounding win over chokers South Africa propelled India to the semis where they clipped the wings of the high flying Bangladeshis.
A 'mother-of-all-battles' final against Pakistan seemed like the perfect setting for Kohli's coronation as Indian and world cricket's new king, but a bloke named Fakhar Zaman had other ideas. The Pakistani opener slammed a century, after surviving an early departure due to a Bumrah no-ball, to all but bat India out of the match. And when Mohammad Amir's swing got the better of Kohli, Pakistan were on their way to recreating the magic of 1992 with another ultimate underdog story.
Anil Kumble resigned almost immediately after the end of the Champions Trophy and in an open letter shared details of how his relationship with the captain had broken down completely over the past 6 months. Kumble's unceremonious exit, despite a very high success rate, showcased how Indian cricket was subservient to the whims and fancies of superstars and Kohli appeared like a spoiled brat from the entire episode.
Kohli's Wish Is Granted as Shastri Returns as Coach
Ravi Shastri, who had lost out to Kumble for the coach's job a year back after a fairly successful stint as Team Director, entered the fray as BCCI started its search for a new Team India coach. The Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC), comprising of legends Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman, were once again given the task of finding the next gaffer.
Virender Sehwag emerged as a dark horse for the job with stories doing the rounds about Ganguly trying to sabotage Shastri's bid. All was not well about the process as Ganguly during a press conference, which was organised to announce the successful candidate's name, said that the CAC needed more time to decide and wanted to consult captain Kohli, who was on a break in USA. Things though took a drastic turn as the CoA got involved in the matter and asked the CAC to immediately announce the name of the coach without further delay.
Ravi Shastri was finally named as Team India's chief coach but there was more confusion as Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan were named as batting and bowling consultants. Shastri though was adamant that he would work with his own support staff, which basically meant the return of Bharat Arun as bowling coach, and after much ado, Kohli and Shastri were re-united.
The Farcical Tours to West Indies and Sri Lanka
Shastri's appointment was preceded by a limited overs tour to West Indies which saw India hammer the second string West Indies side 3-1 in the ODI series in one-sided contests. The Caribbean stars returned for the one-off T20 international and handed the touring Indians a 9-wicket loss, chasing down 190 with ease.
India's first full-fledged tour under the Kohli-Shastri duo was to struggling neighbours Sri Lanka, who were in dire straits due to paucity of talent and a befuddled administration unable to stop the downward spiral.
The Test series saw the hosts getting past the 300-run mark only once. Shikhar Dhawan made a case for his permanent return to the opening slot in Tests with two centuries, while Cheteshwar Pujara helped himself to two more Test tons. Ashwin inched closer to the 300-wicket mark as India whitewashed the Lankans with two massive innings victories.
The ODI series was also wrapped up 5-0 with the Sri Lankans failing to post a total in excess of 240 runs in each of the four times they batted first. Dhoni and Bhuvneshwar Kumar scripted a great escape in the second match while Rohit Sharma improved his dismal record in Sri Lanka with two back to back tons. Jasprit Bumrah was adjudged the player of the series for picking up 15 wickets. India also won the only T20 international to blank the islanders.
The Rise of the Indian Women
The Women's World Cup was given a facelift by the ICC, with the tournament being played in a league format in the round-robin stage between the top eight teams in the world. The matches were broadcast live and fans came out in numbers in England to support the women's game.
India made a spirited start to their campaign under the leadership of Mithali Raj, with convincing victories over hosts England, West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Stellar performances from young opener Smriti Mandhana, spinner Ekta Bisht along with the experience of skipper Mithali, all-rounder Harmanpreet Kaur and pacer Jhulan Goswami meant the Indian women had all but sealed a place in the semis.
Losses against South Africa and favourites Australia meant the team needed to win their last match against New Zealand to go through. Skipper Mithali Raj put her hand up and scored a match-winning century. This came just days after Mithali had broken the world record to become the first woman to breach the 6000-run mark in ODIs.
India faced favourites Australia in the semi-final and it was the turn of vice-captain Harmanpreet Kaur to come to the fore. Kaur, known for her power-hitting abilities, played a knock which many have described as the best ever in the history of the women's game. She scored an unbeaten 171 off just 115 deliveries to power India to 281. The Aussies were bowled out for 245 and India had made it to their second ever World Cup final.
The maiden trophy though eluded the girls as they succumbed to the pressure of the final. Chasing a below par 229 for victory, the Indian women were on track with Harmanpreet (51) and opener Poonam Raut (86) slamming half-centuries. Raut's dismissal though triggered a collapse and the Indian women fell short by 9 runs.
Mithali and her team lost the final but their performance gave women's cricket in India an all new foundation with people recognising the talent and hard work of the players like never before.
Kohli & Boys Complete Home Run 2.0 - Emergence of the New Spin Twins
Australia returned to India for a limited overs tour and ended up losing the ODI series 1-4. The first match at Chennai saw the hosts slump in front of some inspired swing bowling by Nathan Coulter-Nile. But MS Dhoni's composure and Hardik Pandya's spunk helped India come out of the hole. A rain-curtailed chase saw the spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal bowl India to victory.
Kuldeep starred in the second match with a hat-trick while Chahal's guile was too much for the Aussie batsmen on pitches that assisted spinners. Pandya batted with gay abandon to take India to victory in the third match as the series was sealed. The T20I series was shared after the last match was abandoned due to rain with both India and Australia winning a match apiece.
LAUGH RIOT ALERT: @ImRo45, @yuzi_chahal and @imkuldeep18 hit it off the field - by @Moulinparikh https://t.co/iRyYV9FSGE pic.twitter.com/u077Lm5sck— BCCI (@BCCI) October 3, 2017
LAUGH RIOT ALERT: @ImRo45, @yuzi_chahal and @imkuldeep18 hit it off the field - by @Moulinparikh https://t.co/iRyYV9FSGE pic.twitter.com/u077Lm5sck
The three-match ODI series against New Zealand was a keenly fought one with the Kiwis almost sealing their first ever series win in India. Tom Latham and Ross Taylor's ice cool temperament gave the Kiwis the lead in the series as they chased a total in excess of 280 with elan. India fought back by winning the second match with ease as the Kiwis collapsed after batting first. The final match saw Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli slam respective centuries to take India to a total of 331/7. New Zealand chased well again with Latham leading the charge. But a timely comeback from Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah saved the day as the hosts edged out the Kiwis.
Sri Lanka visited India for a full-fledged tour and many thought of it as a pointless exercise after the drubbing the islanders got at home. But the Test series started with the Lankans bowling the Indians out cheaply on a green top in Kolkata. The pitch improved and so did the performances with the bat. Sporadic rain had ensured the match was moving towards a draw but Sri Lanka's fourth innings frailty meant they were 75/7 in the second innings when bad light stopped play and the islanders escaped.
India won the second Test in Nagpur by an innings and 239 runs with captain Virat Kohli stealing the headline with yet another double century. The last Test in capital Delhi was a dramatic one with Sri Lankan players struggling to play due to the high levels of air pollution in the city. The match was drawn but BCCI and the Indian team's attitude towards the tourists' genuine complaint about unplayable conditions showed the inherent arrogance that has become an intrinsic part of Indian cricket now.
Captain Virat Kohli took a break to finally get married to lady love Anushka Sharma and that gave Rohit Sharma a chance to lead India for the first time in limited overs cricket.
Today we have promised each other to be bound in love for ever. We are truly blessed to share the news with you.This beautiful day will be made more special with the love and support of our family of fans & well wishers. Thank you for being such an important part of our journey. pic.twitter.com/aobTUwMNAK— Virat Kohli (@imVkohli) December 11, 2017
Today we have promised each other to be bound in love for ever. We are truly blessed to share the news with you.This beautiful day will be made more special with the love and support of our family of fans & well wishers. Thank you for being such an important part of our journey. pic.twitter.com/aobTUwMNAK
Congratulations you two! @imVkohli , I’ll share the husband handbook with you. @AnushkaSharma , keep the surname 😏— Rohit Sharma (@ImRo45) December 12, 2017
Congratulations you two! @imVkohli , I’ll share the husband handbook with you. @AnushkaSharma , keep the surname 😏
The ODI series started with the Lankans humiliating India on a green top in Dharamsala as Suranga Lakmal's four-wicket haul decimated the Indian batting. Mohali gave the Indian batsmen a chance to return the favour and it was captain Rohit who led from the front. He slammed his third ODI double hundred and second against the Lankans to power India to 392, the result from there was a mere formality. India won the series in Vizag after the bowlers restricted the visitors to a below par total.
The T20I series was a 3-0 whitewash with the moment of the series coming in the second match in Indore, where Rohit Sharma equalled the record for the fastest T20 international century in just 35 deliveries.
2018 - Time to Win On the Road
After the unprecedented success of 2017, the year 2018 presents an opportunity for Kohli and his men to showcase whether they are capable of winning outside the sub-continent or not. Three demanding tours to South Africa, England and Australia could go a long way in either establishing this unit as the best Indian cricket side ever or relegate them to the more mortal levels of teams that won all at home but were poor travellers. So, 2018 is about all or nothing for Kohli and boys.
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