The accolades for India’s newfound strength in the pace department have been rolling in throughout the year with their performances in the tours of South Africa, England and now Australia.
The fast-bowling armoury has been hailed by many as the best-ever produced by India and it is hard to argue otherwise.
Having more than matched their counterparts in South Africa and England and having comfortably outbowled Australia’s fearsome pace trio of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood in their own backyard, India’s quicks are fully deserving of all plaudits that have come their way.
However, while Indian cricket fans were going gaga over Bumrah, Ishant and Shami’s exploits, one man has slipped quietly under the radar. It was the man who kickstarted India’s 2018 in explosive fashion by blowing away South Africa’s top-order at Newlands in the first Test.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar removed Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla and Aiden Markram in the space of just three overs to give India a stunning start to their overseas sojourns of 2018.
India would eventually fall to a 72-run defeat with Bhuvneshwar dropped for the second Test at Centurion. The 28-year-old was drafted back into the playing XI for the final Test at Wanderers, picking up four wickets across the two innings as India secured a famous win.
While a sense of disappointment was only natural for Bhuvneshwar after his baffling omission at Centurion, there was still plenty to play for with a tour of England to follow. With conditions in England traditionally favouring seamers of the ilk of Bhuvneshwar, the Meerut-born bowler was expected to make a giant killing in the five-Test series.
However, little did Bhuvneshwar know that the Wanderers Test would be his last appearance in India whites for 2018. Disaster would strike in the limited-overs leg of the England tour with the seamer being rushed back from a back injury for the deciding ODI at Lord’s.
India went on to lose the ODI series as well as Bhuvneshwar for the remainder of the tour after the pacer aggravated his injury. Robbed of a chance to perform on pitches where his seam bowling would have probably fetched maximum reward, the India man had to fly back home to undergo an extensive period of rehabilitation.
He came back strongly from that disappointment to play a starring role in India’s Asia Cup triumph and was looking in fine form ahead of the Australian tour.
But Australia was always going to be the least favoured surface of Bhuvneshwar among India’s overseas destinations of 2018 with his lack of pace and bounce. Hence, it was not surprising that Bumrah, Ishant and Shami were preferred ahead of him.
When India did opt to field a four-man pace attack at Perth, it was Umesh Yadav who got the nod instead of Bhuvneshwar. In all probability, Bhuvneshwar will sit out the Sydney Test as well with the ground traditionally assisting the spinners.
As such, a 2018 which promised so much at the start for Bhuvneshwar has gone sour completely with just two Test appearance to show for the seamer. He has found himself fall way behind in the pecking order of the pacer battery with Bumrah’s meteoric rise.
A seamer of Bhuvneshwar’s talent would be an automatic pick for most Test outfits in the world but he now risks becoming the forgotten man of India’s bowling attack. Will 2019 bring a change in fortunes for the unlucky bowler? For his sake, Bhuvneshwar will hope so.
There has been no dearth of limited-overs action in 2018 with teams looking to finetune their preparations for the 2019 ICC World Cup to be held in England.
As a potentially blockbuster year for the one-day format approaches, we take a look at the best possible ODI XI from 2018.
The Pakistan opener became the first batsman from his country to register an ODI double ton with a brilliant unbeaten 210 against Zimbabwe. In the process, he also became the fastest batsman in history to notch up 1,000 runs in the format. His form dipped towards the end but an average of over 67 as an opener is nothing to be scoffed at.
The India limited-overs vice-captain had a stunning calendar year with over 1,000 runs in 19 matches at an average of 73 and a strike-rate of 100. His five tons in 2018 is only behind Virat Kohli (six) as his consistency at the top hit unprecedented heights.
The No1 ODI batsman once again ended the year as the highest run-scorer with 1,202 runs in 14 matches at an unreal average of over 133. He helped India secure a maiden ODI series win on South African soil to start the year and has not looked back since. Adding six more tons to his kitty, Kohli is now only 11 centuries away from levelling Sachin Tendulkar’s tally (49).
With England the undisputed ODI kings, it is no surprise to see Root make the cut. The 28-year-old’s back-to-back tons helped hosts England secure a 2-1 series win over the No2 ranked India in the summer. With an average of nearly 60, Root has been one of the main protagonists in England’s stellar 2018 run.
With four ODI hundred in 2018, Bairstow is only behind Kohli and Rohit in the centuries’ department. The England opener was in fine form throughout 2018 as he became one of only three batsmen to rack up over 1,000 runs. The most impressive aspect of Bairstow’s batting has been his ridiculous scoring rate with his 1,025 runs coming at a strike-rate of over 118.
It would be a travesty to not include Shai Hope after a coming-of-age year for the Windies batsman. His unbeaten 146 against Bangladesh at Dhaka to snatch a last-gasp win for the tourists was arguably the ODI knock of the year. After failing to fulfill his initial promise in recent years, Hope took 2018 by the scruff of the neck with three tons and as many half-centuries.
The lone Sri Lankan to make the cut, Perera takes the all-rounder’s slot after some decent contributions with both bat and ball in 2018. Although the islanders had a dismal year in the limited-overs format, Perera stood out by picking up 25 wickets in his 14 matches while also chipping in with over 400 runs with the bat in hand.
The Afghanistan leg-spin prodigy continued his rapid rise in international cricket as he ended the year as the top-ranked ODI bowler. He finished as the top wicket-taker as well with 48 scalps in just 20 matches at an average of less than 15. It was his economy-rate that stood out though with the 20-year-old going at just 3.89 run an over.
It was the year of wrist-spinners in international cricket with India’s Kuldeep Yadav giving Rashid an excellent run for his money. The 24-year-old claimed 45 scalps in 2018 after playing 19 matches and played a key role in India’s ODI triumph in South Africa. Guaranteeing wickets every time he bowled, Kuldeep was India’s go to option whenever the chips were down.
Having made his ODI debut in the series against India in February, Ngidi took no time to find his feet in international cricket. The South African was the second most prolific pacer in 2018 with 26 wickets in 13 games at an average of 23. That his breakout performances earned him a lucrative IPL contract as well was no surprise.
While Bumrah’s meteoric rise in the Test format has been grabbing headline, his limited-overs prowess remains second to none. Ending the year as the top-ranked ODI bowler, Bumrah’s 2018 saw him claim a total of 22 wickets in 13 matches at an average of 16.63 and a phenomenal economy-rate of just 3.62. There are no better death-overs bowlers in the world at the moment.
Honourable mentions – Ross Taylor, Kagiso Rabada, Mushfiqur Rahim, Imam-ul-Haq.
Rohit’s wife Ritika Sajdeh gave birth to a baby girl some time after the completion of the third Test at Melbourne. The 31-year-old Indian batsman has already departed for his hometown Mumbai with the BCCI confirming his absence for the fourth and final Test of the series.
Rohit, who left from Melbourne on Sunday, will rejoin the Indian team in Australia on January 8, in time for the three-match ODI series against the hosts.
“Update – Rohit Sharma to join ODI squad on 8th January. India batsman Rohit Sharma left for Mumbai on the 30th of December to attend to his wife who has delivered a baby girl. The BCCI congratulates Rohit on the beginning of a new chapter in his life,” the BCCI tweeted.
The Indian board has not named any replacement player in Rohit’s absence.
Update - Rohit Sharma to join ODI squad on 8th January— BCCI (@BCCI) December 31, 2018
India batsman @ImRo45 left for Mumbai on the 30th of December to attend to his wife who has delivered a baby girl. The BCCI congratulates Rohit on the beginning of a new chapter in his life. pic.twitter.com/7jokivuLGT
The right-hander had made a vital contribution in India’s 137-run win in the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne with a 63-run knock in the first innings.
India, who are currently on the brink of a maiden Test series win on Australian soil, are slated to take on the hosts in the final match at Sydney from January 3.
The ODI series between the two sides will get underway on January 12 at the same venue and deputy skipper Rohit is expected to play a big part for the tourists.