Virat Kohli’s elevation to test captaincy triggered a much-needed change in mindset among the players. For far too long, the air around the test side lacked intent. Poor technique combined with an attitude along the lines of ‘let’s wait for the opponent to make a mistake’ saw our fortunes dwindle in the longest format. However, Kohli’s infectious energy, attacking mindset and superlative batting prowess has thrusted India to 6 consecutive test series victories with Bangladesh being the latest victims.
After the coin finally favored India, Vijay and Rahul strode onto what was an excellent pitch for batting. Unfortunately, Rahul was dismissed in the very first over which continued India’s opening woes. As they have done so many times over the last few years, Vijay and Pujara began laying the foundation for an enormous first innings total. Pujara’s fall for a disciplined 83 brought the Indian captain to the middle. Kohli looked extremely convincing right from ball one and before you knew it, he had brought up his 16th test century. Vijay was solid at the other end and his love for the opening test of a series continued as he scored his 9th century. Backed by the vociferous crowd in Hyderabad, Kohli continued with his merry ways and eased to his 4th double hundred before falling for 204. Saha, making a comeback, became the first Indian wicketkeeper to score a test century both at home and outside the subcontinent while Rahane and Jadeja made useful contributions which propelled India to a mammoth 687/6.
In reply, Bangladesh made a spirited effort. Mushfiqur Rahim played a stellar knock, fighting his way to a highly commendable 127. Shakib and Mehdi Hasan struck half centuries as the Tigers batted for close to 130 overs for their 388. With the bowlers being tired, Kohli chose against enforcing the follow on. India lost both openers cheaply in the quest for quick runs but Kohli and Pujara steadied the ship with some percentage cricket. Pujara was particularly impressive, scoring a brisk 54* of just 58 balls. The rest chipped in as India declared at 159/4 leaving Bangladesh to chase down an improbable 459 for victory.
Anyone who thought the visitors would crumble in the 4th innings were left ruing their predictions as they once again fought hard. They toiled for more than a hundred overs but the ask was just too much. Ashwin and Jadeja, the top 2 test bowlers, bowled tight lines and were always at the batsmen. They finished with 4 wickets apiece as India thrashed their opponents by 208 runs. The bigger test lies ahead as the Aussies are set to play 4 tests and Kohli will be gunning for a 7th straight series triumph.
The new year brought along a change in leadership for the Indian cricket team. M.S Dhoni, India’s most successful skipper pulled the plug on his captaincy stint which elevated his heir, Virat Kohli to the helm. Kohli had already tasted quite a lot of success leading the test team but limited overs cricket poses an entirely different set of challenges. The three ODIs against England were India’s only fixtures in this format ahead of the Champions Trophy in June and hence it was pivotal to make these games count. Going into the third and final game, India have not only sealed the series but have also ticked a lot of boxes.
The first match, played in Pune witnessed a stunning chase from the Indians. After Roy, Root and Stokes had powered England to a mammoth 350, the Barmy Army had the Men in Blue stuttering at 63-4. This is when the local lad, Kedar Jadhav, joined his skipper in the middle and the two of them struck scintillating centuries to help India win by 3 wickets. The second game at Cuttack saw the Indian top order struggle again. Then came a heartwarming partnership between two stalwarts of Indian cricket. Yuvraj Singh scored a magnificent 150, his first ODI century in nearly 6 years while Dhoni bludgeoned a stunning 134 which lifted India to an enormous 381. In reply, the under fire English skipper, Eoin Morgan struck a superlative century but the asking rate was just too much as his team fell short by 15 runs.
Though the series is sealed, there will definitely be no letup in intensity from Virat’s men. As he stated earlier, they will be treating every game as a knock out and will look to whitewash the Englishmen. Barring the openers, the rest of the batting is more or less set for the Champions Trophy. Kohli, Yuvi, Dhoni and Jadhav will look to continue their fine run. Eden Gardens will present one last opportunity for Shikhar Dhawan to seal his spot. While Rohit Sharma is expected to open once he returns from injury, the other slot has 3 potential takers in Dhawan, Rahul and Rahane. The management might want to give Rahane a chance along with Dhawan in Kolkata. On the bowling side, Bhuvi, Ashwin and Jaddu bowled admirably in Cuttack and will once again be expected to deliver the goods. Pandya was erratic in the last game but will be looking to bounce back in the next one which is expected to offer more to the seamers. His role as an allrounder who can clock 140 kph augurs well for India ahead of 8 team extravaganza in England in June. The visitors on the other hand have not yet won a game on this tour and the desperation will be mounting. They have done well in both the games this year but have let India off the hook at key instances. Morgan will want to avoid a whitewash and get some momentum going ahead of the 3 match T20 series.
The Pakistan cricket team went into the series against Australia knowing that it was the best time to better their record in test cricket Down Under. The Aussies were still hurting from the humiliation at the hands of the Proteas and the team had undergone a considerable number of changes. The Baggy Greens though had not lost a test at the Gabba in like forever and Steven Smith’s boys were determined to keep that streak intact. What followed was surreal. After conceding a huge first innings lead (courtesy another batting collapse), the visitors seemed out of it when they were asked to score 490 in the 4th innings but as always, you can never know for sure with Pakistan. Asad Shafiq scored a magnificent 137 and along with the tail, threatened to complete what would have been one of the biggest coups ever in test cricket and but for a ferocious bouncer from Mitchell Starc, he might have very well done that. In the end, Australia won by 39 runs and though Pakistan can count it as a moral victory, they will need much more in the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne.
Australia have named an unchanged XI. Smith and Handscomb were among the runs in the first test but it’ll be David Warner who’ll be keenly watched. The swashbuckling opener has had an indifferent 2016 and will hope to end this year and start the next one on a personal high. Nic Maddinson has now failed to get going in 2 tests and will know that he cannot afford another failure. Their spearhead, Starc, will be playing his first Boxing Day Test and will look to continue his fine run. The MCG is a huge ground and the pitch is expected to offer a bit more to the bowlers. The batsmen will have to apply themselves in order to make meaningful contributions.
Pakistan will know that the runs need to flow from the top of the order. Misbah, as usual, needs to take the onus on himself and make sure that his team doesn’t self-destruct as they often tend to do. Azhar and Younis will look to make bigger scores while the rest also have to consistently punch above their weights. Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz are certainties in the XI but Rahat Ali might just make way for Imran Khan who will provide variety to the pace attack. Though Pakistan fought back well last week, they are still the underdogs in this game and will need to consistently sustain the pressure on Australia to have any chance of ending the year on a high.
India and England, after a good week’s rest, are set to resume the action when they meet at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai for the penultimate test starting tomorrow. There are different yet significant things on the line for both teams coming into the fourth test. India of course are 2-0 up and will be looking to seal the series with a game to spare. This will give them their 5th successive test series victory. The visitors on the other hand are fighting for survival, they have won the last 3 test series played against India and will definitely fight to keep this one alive.
Both sides have been hampered by a lot of injuries. For the hosts, Ajinkya Rahane is the latest entrant into this club. Rahane was hit on the hand while practicing in the nets and that resulted in an avulsion fracture which will sideline him for the last 2 tests. Saha has still not recovered from the strained left thigh which forced him to miss the previous test and this means we will get to see more from the pocket rocket, Parthiv Patel. India’s pace spearhead, Shami, is also nursing a sore knee and is a doubtful starter. If he does miss out, it’ll be a huge blow for the hosts as Shami has been extremely impressive in this series. K L Rahul is set to open the innings with Murali Vijay with Pujara and Kohli to follow. Manish Pandey has been drafted in for Rahane but Karun Nair, who was unfortunately left stranded by his captain on his test debut last week, might just benefit from Rahane’s injury and make it to the playing XI. Ashwin and Jaddu will as always be expected to deliver the goods with both bat and ball. It’ll be interesting to see if Kohli drops Jayant Yadav for an extra seamer or backs his young offie to come good on a track which is expected to offer good bounce.
England have their own problems. Haseeb Hameed, the young English opener, showed a lot of fight and character right throughout the series and even played with an injured finger during his 59* in Mohali. Unfortunately, he will miss the remaining tests and Keaton Jennings is set to partner his captain at the top of the order. Cook himself has been short of runs and the onus will be on him to make sure that his side does not fall behind in the first innings. Ben Stokes has been effective with both bat and ball while Bairstow has been racking up the runs. England will hope that Broad is fit enough to start as his presence and combination with Anderson will provide a huge boost for the visitors. The pitch is likely to assist the quicks initially with spinners set to play a role from Day 3 onwards which means that both teams will have to think a lot about their combination. England have won their last two matches at the Wankhede and will hope to extend that streak and stay alive in the series.
Coming into the Chappell-Hadlee series, Australia were under enormous pressure. For a team which generally seeks to stamp its authority right from the word go, their recent performances have been extremely lackluster. When they donned the whites in Sri Lanka, they were humbled 3-0. Though the limited overs brought about a change in fortunes, they were in for a rude surprise in their next assignment against a high-quality Proteas side. South Africa, in their own backyard, blanked the Kangaroos 5-0 in the ODIs and then travelled Down Under to beat them 2-1 in the tests. The senior cricketers were misfiring and Steven Smith was feeling the heat. The Baggy Greens needed to reinvent themselves and firmly flex their muscle and this victory at Canberra, which gives them the series, is a step in regaining their much-acclaimed aura.
The Kiwis came into the match knowing that a loss would take the Chappell-Hadlee trophy away from them. Williamson called it right and chose to field, hoping that his bowlers would do a much better job than last time. However, David Warner continued his rich vein of form in ODIs and danced his way to a superlative century. In the company of his captain, who was again in the runs with a quick 72, he put on 145 runs to take the stuffing out of the Kiwis’ attack. One would excuse Williamson if he had thought that his side had a chance to come back into the game after he latched on to Warner’s offering of de Grandhomme but Travis Head (57 of 32) and Mitchell Marsh (76* of 40) plundered runs at will to take their team to an imposing 378/5.
In reply, New Zealand knew that Martin Guptill had to fire if they were to even come close to their Trans-Tasman rival’s score. The Kiwi opener threatened briefly but Pat Cummins got the better of him. Williamson and Neesham struck solid half-centuries but they were always significantly behind the asking rate. Hazlewood prized out Neesham and Cummins removed the Kiwi skipper to leave the visitors stuttering at 232-6. Starc (2-52) then combined with Cummins (4-41) to clean up the lower order and give the Aussies a much-required series win with a game to spare. New Zealand will be playing for pride in the last game at Melbourne.