The year 2018 is going to be a huge one for Indian cricket. There are three major overseas tours to the three top cricket-playing countries, and the performance there will decide how good this Indian team is, at least in the eyes of the Indian cricket lovers.
India’s international season at home was terrific, with wins over Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka team was the easiest of oppositions, with many of their players not good enough for even the first-class level, leave alone the international level. The top six Ranji Trophy teams in the country, even without their international players, would have beaten this Sri Lanka team.
Make no mistake, there were some good players in the Sri Lanka team, like Suranga Lakmal, the new ball bowler who shook India in the first Test on a green top at Eden Gardens under overcast conditions. There was Dhananjaya de Silva, who batted splendidly in the Delhi Test, and Roshen Silva. There was the combative Niroshan Dickwella, who looks like a future Sri Lanka captain — that is if politics does not interfere in the selection process — and there was also Angelo Mathews and skipper Dinesh Chandimal, who had a big partnership in Delhi. But there was nobody else who could have easily found a place in the top six Ranji Trophy teams, and that is a sad situation for a country that loves its cricket the way Sri Lanka does. The lovely Sri Lankan fans deserve better than what they are getting. Part of the problem is the kind of politics in the sub-continent that cricket cannot escape from.
The Indian think-tank’s decision to try and replicate at home the conditions that the team would face in South Africa was praiseworthy, but it backfired in Dharamsala and almost did so at Eden Gardens. What those two games tell us is that, it is sensible not to expect too much of the team’s batting in South Africa if the conditions are even mildly similar to the ones seen at the two Indian venues. South Africa has three ‘Lakmals’, and if Dale Steyn is even half fit then he would be more than a handful in their conditions.
The pitches in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Centurion will help pacers with movement and bounce, and unless the batsmen are prepared to knuckle down to the task and be careful with their shot selection at least at the start of their innings, there could be a repetition of what happened in Eden Gardens (against Sri Lanka, first Test, first innings) and Dharamsala (against Sri Lanka, first ODI).
Apart from cricket, what the fans will also be hoping for is the end to the uncertainty in the BCCI administration. Since the Supreme Court verdict following the recommendations of the Hon. Justice Lodha Committee, the game has been run by a Committee of Advisors along with a few office-bearers and the CEO, and none of them is able to take any decision on his own. The BCCI AGM also has not taken place, which might suit some people, but it has left the game in a limbo, especially the Ranji Trophy players and junior cricketers. Hopefully, there will be a resolution sooner than later in the new year, so that the game can be administered by the people elected to do so.
Australia’s annihilation of England did not come as a surprise, since like in football the English team is invariably talked up by their media, of whom most have not even picked up a bat at a sports shop. Not that you have to have played cricket at the highest level to write or talk about the game, for if that were the case then the social media would have nobody making comments about the game, and there would be no social media-made stars either.
England looked as if it would hold its own, as the team had a top bowling attack with James Anderson and Stuart Broad having more than 900 Test wickets between them. However, as it happens when a team plays overseas, the line and length needed to bowl in foreign conditions is different, and unless teams adjust quickly to it there is going to be only one result. So is the case with batting: the players have to be prepared for a lot more bounce than in home conditions.
That is why it is hoped that for India’s tours to England after the IPL and Australia later in the year, the team gets the time to acclimatise itself not only to the weather conditions but also the pitches by playing more than the one token warm-up game that most touring sides seem to play nowadays. That may be convenient for the certainties in the team who, irrespective of their form, will play in the first two Tests. The lack of matches between Tests is a problem too, because the out-of-form player does not get the chance to find form in less demanding conditions before the next Test, or the fringe player does not get the opportunity to stake a claim for a place in the playing XI by showing his skills in the warm-up game.
Be that as it may, 2018 promises to be an exciting year for Indian cricket, which is expected to fulfil the hopes and aspirations not only of the players themselves but also the millions of Indian cricket lovers all over the world.
Wish the readers a really happy 2018!
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