England are staring at a whitewash in the Ashes. So it might seem odd to talk about consistency in 2017. But there is cricket outside The Ashes and when we look at performances in other major series throughout the year, one can spot traces of consistency, even if they are not at the desired levels.
Looking at contests that theoretically don’t fall in the category of a mismatch in Tests and ODIs, three teams showed enough consistency to raise hopes of better performances in the upcoming season.
India maintained their performance throughout the year better than the rest of the teams.
After the second T20 against Sri Lanka, India’s record looked very impressive – seven wins from 11 Tests with one defeat, 21 wins in 29 ODIs with seven losses, and eight wins and four defeats in T20s. Virat Kohli’s team maintained their position as the No1 Test team while sitting pretty on the number two spot in ODIs.
The Indians reached the final of the Champions Trophy and a heavy 180-run defeat to Pakistan in the final was the one major blemish on their record which stopped them from becoming the runaway leaders of the game.
The emergence of a strong pace attack led by Jasprit Bumrah, Mohamed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma, along with the other-wordly exploits of Kohli – who scored an astonishing 2,818 runs from 46 matches across all formats – added a new dimension to the Indian team’s performance.
The surprise package of 2017 were New Zealand. They won four Tests out of seven with one defeat, won 10 and lost eight ODIs and had a 4-3 record in T20s.
The South Africans found the going tough in their 1-0 win in the three match series in New Zealand in March and the Kiwis fell just six runs short of a sensational ODI series win in India in October.
The Aussies did equally well abeit in the longest format. They lost a hard-fought series in India 2-1 and pushed India all the way right until the penultimate day of the last Test in Dharamsala. They started the year with a 3-0 series win against Pakistan at home and managed a respectable 1-1 Test series draw in Bangladesh.
And in The Ashes, the Aussies proved to be almost untouchable, reinforcing the status of Australia as the toughest venue to visit.
In ODI, however, the Aussies had a disappointing year although the sample size is not big. They only played 15 matches and lost eight, winning five. That included a 4-1 series defeat in India and an early exit from the Champions Trophy where rain ruined two of their matches.
Pakistan hit a few highs but also saw some alarming dips. While the year will be remembered for Pakistan’s win over India in the final of the Champions Trophy and a commendable 12 wins and six defeats in ODIs, they crashed to a 3-0 Test series loss in Australia and surprisingly lost 2-0 to Sri Lanka in the longest format in the UAE.
England, on the other hand, will look back at the year with a fair amount of despondency. Not only have they been humiliated in The Ashes, but alcohol-related incidents involving Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Duckett have raised questions over the behaviour of its players.
Even the Sri Lankans, after crashing to nine successive defeats at home to India, redeemed themselves towards the end of the year by winning the two Test series against Pakistan in the UAE before giving the Indians a torrid time in the three match Test series – which they lost 1-0.
So while we continue to see one-sided encounters, there have been enough fightbacks to maintain a semblance of balance.
Two major developments this year promise to breathe new life into cricket in coming years.
Firstly, the ICC approved plans for a bona fide Test match world championship and an ODI league. The first two-year Test championship with the game’s top nine teams is scheduled to begin in 2019 with the top two teams as of April 2021 playing in a championship final. In ODIs, the league featuring the top 13 teams will begin in 2020-21 leading up to the 2023 World Cup.
It is thus hoped that the days of bilateral series without any context are well and truly behind us. Also, hopefully, teams won’t use matches as training grounds for bigger challenges.
And in even more heart-warming news, Afghanistan and Ireland were accorded Test status after years of toiling away at the Associate level.
Test cricket also embraced the idea of day-night matches wholeheartedly with The Ashes hosting its first pink ball Test.
Times sure are changing.
After a 124-run defeat to India, Pakistan reeled off wins against South Africa, Sri Lanka and England to reach the final.
There, the Sarfraz Ahmed-led team piled on 338-4 before demolishing India’s line-up in a 180-run victory.
This after they had barely qualified as the eighth and last team for the tournament.
Hasan Ali emerged as a world-class quick.
Virat Kohli hit three double tons in 2017 but Smith’s 239 at the WACA sneaks ahead.
Australia were chasing 403 in the first innings but England just didn’t know how to dismiss him.
Smith simply made the opposition give up all hope.
The 19-year-old Afghanistan legspinner stunned the West Indies in June with the fourth-best figures in ODI history.
It was the year Rashid announced himself on the world stage, going for $600,000 in the IPL auction and finishing with 60 wickets from 26 international matches.
Administrators are perennially looking at ways to keep the new generation of cricket fans engaged.
In T10 – launched in the UAE with matches lasting 90 minutes – the game has a new format that can theoretically be sold to new markets.
The iconic duo called it a day after a decade of holding the team together.
Younis, the only Pakistani with 10,000 Test runs, and Misbah, who took them to the top of the Test rankings, will be sorely missed.
OPENERS: Shikhar Dhawan, David Warner
MIDDLE ORDER: Hashim Amla, Virat Kohli (c), Steve Smith, Joe Root
WICKET-KEEPER: Quinton de Kock
ALL-ROUNDER: Shakib Al Hasan
PACERS: Kagiso Rabada, Josh Hazlewood, Hasan Ali
12th man Ben Stokes
It’s not every day the UAE internationals get to rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in cricket and that too on their very home turf.
But that’s exactly what happened to 10 cricketers at the inaugural T10 League. Rameez Shahzad, Mohammad Naveed (Bengal Tigers), skipper Rohan Mustafa, Imran Haider (Kerala Kings), Shaiman Anwar, Zahoor Khan (Maratha Arabians), Amjad Javed, Saqlain Haider (Pakthoons), Shareef Asadullah and Ghulam Shabbir (Punjabi Legends) were all picked up by the team owners of the five franchises in November’s player draft.
The fact that so many were snapped up by the owners, whose franchises’ squads would include the likes of World T20 and Champions Trophy winners was no surprise. It was a rule implemented by the tournament organisers, making it compulsory for team owners to select two UAE cricketers in their squads.
Their selection at the time, would open the doors to showcase their talent on a more bigger stage in front of 15,000 fans at Sharjah Cricket Stadium and millions worldwide. It was something that the Emirates cricketers were chasing for, having proved their worth at Associate level.
Their time had come to make a name for themselves beyond the Associate-level sphere. But by the time Eoin Morgan was hoisting the trophy with his Kerala Kings’ team-mates late on Sunday night, only half of those got playing time under their belt over the four days.
Mustafa was named in the starting 11 for all five matches but with a squad boasting the likes of Morgan, Paul Stirling and Keiron Pollard, the opening batsman had to settle for number seven in the batting list. By the time he did come on with the bat, he faced just one delivery, knocking his only boundary and four runs of the tournament.
For pacer Mohammad Naveed, he was one of the standout players for the UAE, taking three wickets and scoring 11 runs in his four matches with Bengal Tigers, while Zahoor Khan, who played the same amount of games claiming one scalp.
Another person who made four appearances for his side was wicket-keeper Saqlain Haider but with the format favouring the batsmen, he could only show his handy work behind the stumps with one catch.
You counted us out, but we fought back like a wounded tiger!
— BengalTigers_T10 (@BengalTigersUAE) December 15, 2017
While those players will cherish those memories of sharing the same dressing room and training with the elite stars, they will be disappointed to have not been given more opportunities to prove their worth.
As Mustafa put it, he might well have got a winning medal from the tournament but with the 13 matches crammed in four days, the schedule did them no favours.
“To be honest, we didn’t get much time to train with the team captains and they don’t know much about us,” he lamented.
The tournament organisers will have understood their frustrations and disappointment so if plans do materialize of having four UAE players in a squad with two named in the starting 11 in the next edition, then they deserve a lot credit for helping Emirates cricket move forward.
It’s something that will aid the players because there is a lot of talent in the national team, who have enjoyed one of their most successful years of late. In 31 matches, they have won 22 including a 2-1 serie 50-over win over Netherlands in Amsterdam.
Mustafa has certainly risen to the occasion since being appointed the new skipper in February with one of his highlights coming in April when he became the third cricketer to score a century and a five-for in ODI cricket against Papua New Guinea.
At 38, Anwar has shown he still has plenty left in the tank by becoming the first UAE player to score a T20I century, while spinner Ahmed Raza, who was not picked in T10 League, finished as the top wicket-taker in the four-day ICC Intercontinental Cup with 32 scalps.
That’s not to mention Chirag Suri, who became the first Emirates cricketer to be bought in an IPL auction when he was sold to Gujarat Lions in February.
The T10 League has shown it can capture imaginations and put players in the spotlight. Paul Stirling’s blistering half-century in the final is proof of that and could well open the doors to other lucrative leagues. There’s no reason why it can’t happen to the UAE internationals.
Mustafa’s record this year with the bat has proved he was more than capable of scoring big runs as an opener for Kerala. The team captains and coaches just need to realize their potential and give them a chance.
Australia were confident rain would not deny them the Ashes despite play being abandoned early on the fourth day of the third Test against England in Perth on Sunday.
The home side lead the five-Test series 2-0 and a win in the last-ever Ashes Test to be played at the WACA Ground would see them regain the urn, and at stumps on the fourth day they could smell victory despite the showers sweeping across Perth and predicted to continue into the final day’s play.
Trailing by 259 runs in the first innings after Australia declared at 662 for nine, England were 132 for four when stumps was called early after a rain-interrupted final session, with Dawid Malan on 28 and Jonny Bairstow on 14, still behind by 127 runs.
Australian pacemen Josh Hazlewood, who claimed the wickets of opener Alastair Cook and Mark Stoneman said the home side didn’t expect rain to stand in their way.
“We’ve looked at it (weather forecast) a little bit,” he said.
“I think there is just some rain tomorrow morning, hopefully that doesn’t hang around too long and we can get the best part of two sessions in to take these next six wickets.”
“We’d love to have stayed out there for another today and got that fifth wicket, but we’ll come back tomorrow for the other six.”
The last man out on the fourth day was James Vince for a neat 55, bowled when a Mitchell Starc ball jagged off a crack and crashed into his stumps.
That Vince wicket ball would’ve dismissed every batsman in the history of the game. Not often you can say that #Ashes
— Jimmy Neesham (@JimmyNeesh) December 17, 2017
Hazlewood said the crack would be part of the Australian attack’s game plan on the last day.
“I’d like five or six more (to hit the crack) tomorrow,” he said.
“You only need a couple to straighten off it and you are in the game.
“It’s a pretty simple method, there is not much more out there to aim at than that crack.”
Vince conceded there was nothing he could have done against the delivery.
‘IT’S GOING TO BE TOUGH’
More rain is forecast for Monday, although it is only predicted to be a problem before lunchtime.
Vince said the English believed they could save the game regardless of the weather.
“I think we try and put the rain to the back of our minds,” he said.
“We’ve got to have belief that we can save the series and get over the line tomorrow.
“It’s going to be tough and I’m sure there’s going to be some good balls flying around out there but these two especially showed in the first innings that they can occupy the crease for a long time, so hopefully they get off to a good start in the morning.”
The tourists’ second innings got off to a dismal start when opener Stoneman was caught behind from the bowling of Hazlewood for just three in the second over.
In his 150th Test, Cook’s woes then continued when Hazlewood snared a brilliant one-handed return catch to remove him for 14, leaving the former skipper with just 83 runs at 13.83 for the series.
Captain Joe Root was the third man out, to spinner Nathan Lyon’s first ball of the innings, caught at first slip by his Australian counterpart Steve Smith for 14 off the glove of wicketkeeper Tim Paine.
Earlier Australia scored their highest Ashes total at home and fifth-highest against England.
Although Smith added just 10 to his overnight total before being dismissed for 239, his innings was the cornerstone of the massive total.
Smith was adjudged leg before wicket on review after James Anderson’s confident shout was turned down by on-field umpire Chris Gaffaney.
The review ended a chanceless 399-ball epic innings which included 30 fours and one six.
The other overnight batsman, Mitchell Marsh, had departed a few minutes earlier — failing to add to his 181 when he was trapped leg before wicket by Anderson to end a 301-run partnership with Smith.
Anderson finished with four wickets, all claimed on day four, while Stuart Broad recorded career-worst figures of 0-142.