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.
Jasprit Bumrah - First Asian bowler to take a five-fer in each of Australia, England and South Africa in the same calendar year— Cricbuzz (@cricbuzz) December 28, 2018
5/54 vs SA, Johannesburg
5/85 vs Eng, Trent Bridge
6/33 vs Aus, Melbourne#AUSvIND
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.
India's pacers have accounted for a total of 179 wickets across 14 Test matches in 2018; about 50 wickets more than any pace attack from Asia in a year.— Sampath Bandarupalli (@SampathStats) December 30, 2018
Previous Best: 128 wickets by Pakistan pacers from 11 Tests in 1995. #AUSvIND
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.
Most wickets by a left arm bowler after 40 Tests— cricketnmore (@cricketnmore) December 29, 2018
190 - Ravindra Jadeja
175 - Mitchell Johnson
170 - Mitchell Starc
165 - Alan Davidson
160 - Bill Johnston pic.twitter.com/fCpn2Vow6Q
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.
Firsts are always special. In Australia, against Australia. On Boxing Day. The debut couldn't have been any sweeter. Thank you for the overwhelming welcome and support. 🙏🏼 pic.twitter.com/3nHuxVlvdc— Mayank Agarwal (@mayankcricket) December 30, 2018
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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India skipper Virat Kohli hailed “outstanding” Jasprit Bumrah after the pacer picked up career-best match figures of 9-86 in the team’s 137-run win over Australia in the Boxing Day Test, including 6-33 in the first innings.
Kohli says the paceman’s ability to bowl this well this early in his Test career – the 25-year-old only made his debut in January, and has already taken five-wicket hauls in England, South Africa and now Australia – “is a very scary sign for batsmen around the world”.
“Credit has to go to the bowlers. I think they have been outstanding, especially Jasprit. The way he bowled in this Test match was outstanding,” said Kohli after the win gave India a 2-1 lead in the four-Test series.
“The mindset he has at the moment is what separates him from anyone else in the world right now.
“He looks at a pitch and he doesn’t think it’s a hard toil, he thinks wickets, he thinks how can I get a breakthrough for the team.
“He’s as strong-headed as I’ve seen anyone in the past and that’s the key to his success that I’ve seen in the last 12 months, the way he has matured as a Test cricketer.”
“In Test cricket…I wouldn’t want to face him to be honest because once he is on a roll, he can really crank it up,” Kohli added.
Former Australia cricket Kerry O’Keeffe made another insensitive remark during commentary during the Melbourne Test, adding more fuel to the fire started by his insults directed at Indian cricket in general.
O’Keeffe was on commentary duty for FOX Cricket with Shane Warne when the latter asked him about the difficulty in pronouncing Indian names like Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja. O’Keeffe responded by saying: “Why would you name your kid Cheteshwar, Jadeja?” which was laughed off by Warne.
It is the second such instance of O’Keeffe making crass statements about Indian cricket and its people. On Boxing Day, O’Keeffe pooh-poohed debutant Mayank Agarwal’s domestic record, stating his triple-century must have come against a “Jalandhar Railways Canteen Staff”. Also, commentator Mark Waugh derided the standard of first-class cricket in India – the No1 Test team in the world – stating averaging 50 in India is like averaging 40 in Australia.
The Indian management has taken note of O’Keefee’s disparaging remarks.