India have struggled in 2018 but Boxing Day Test win highlights how good a year it's been

Aditya Devavrat 14:03 30/12/2018
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At first glance, 2018 has not been a good year for India.

Their only series wins have come against Afghanistan and West Indies at home. In a year where they were supposed to prove their status as the best team in the world, and possibly in Indian history, by conquering tough away tours, they lost 2-1 in South Africa and 4-1 in England.

Other than Virat Kohli, who shouldn’t even be counted because he is so obviously a freak of nature it’s unfair to his team-mates, India’s batsmen have largely flopped.

One of the best limited-overs chasing sides can’t win a Test batting last.

Yet here they are, at the end of the last Test of 2018, buoyant and on the verge of history.

After a 137-run win against Australia in Melbourne, India are 2-1 up in the series, and head into the New Year’s Test with a chance for a first-ever series win Down Under.

They have a legitimate claim to possessing cricket’s best bowling attack – a fact that, alongside the wins in Australia, is reason enough to be happy about 2018 despite the disappointing results.

India’s Test bowling average of 24.63 in 2018 was the year’s second-best, with the conclusion to 2018 allowing for a delicious moment of one-upmanship:  Kohli’s team edging past Pakistan, also playing a Boxing Day Test, for second spot. Only South Africa, who played eight of their 10 Tests at home, have a better average.

Jasprit Bumrah, a 25-year-old who only made his Test debut in January, ended the year with 48 wickets and the fourth-best mark in 2018.

Mohammed Shami is one wicket and one place behind, and Ishant Sharma, with 41 wickets, is also in the top 10.

Together the trio picked up 136 wickets, making them one of the most dangerous and prolific in contemporary cricket.

Remember the days when India didn’t have fast bowlers?

At the moment, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, regarded as India’s best Test fast bowler heading into the year, can’t get a game. Umesh Yadav became just the third Indian quick to take ten wickets in a home Test, and he’s only the side’s fourth-choice bowler.

Hardik Pandya, the 25-year-old fast-bowling all-rounder India have been waiting for since Kapil Dev, is a luxury rather than a necessity.

If you needed reminding, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin remain Test cricket’s top spinners in the rankings. And 24-year-old mystery spinner Kuldeep Yadav is beginning to make his mark.

Amid the batting failures, there have been signs of hope. Cheteshwar Pujara has cemented his reputation as one of the best No 3s in the world. His two centuries in Australia have provided the backbone for both of India’s wins in the series. Ajinkya Rahane ended the year without a century, but hasn’t lost his knack of playing crucial knocks.

Thrown into the deep end, making a debut in Australia on Boxing Day, rookie opener Mayank Agarwal top-scored in the Test with 118 runs. Prithvi Shaw may have missed this series altogether, but nobody is forgetting his century on debut against West Indies in a hurry.

That’s a 27-year-old opener in Agarwal, and a 19-year-old in Shaw, poised to be India’s top two for the foreseeable future. Agarwal replaced the 26-year-old KL Rahul, who has too much talent to not sort out his form and push for a recall. Shubman Gill, another 19-year-old, is racking up the runs in domestic cricket – even if it is just against “canteen staff” XIs.

And that’s just the top order.

Rishabh Pant has made an eventful entrance to Test cricket, smashing a century in England, two quick-fire 90s against the West Indies, and several impressive cameos. His glovework needs improvement, but he’s already every bit the classic, chirpy, annoying wicketkeeper. Oh, and he’s just 21.

A rejuvenated batting lineup, anchored by a man in Kohli who is destined to go down as one of the best ever. Young batting talents surrounding them. A fast-bowling corps that is already pushing greatness and will only get better. And a 2-1 series lead in Australia with one to play.

India can rarely have emerged from a Boxing Day Test in Australia with so much optimism. Indeed, 2018 may end up being one of Indian cricket’s most important years yet.

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