More highs than lows

Rohit Sharma’s 209, against Australia at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, was one of the standout performances of the year.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

The overwhelming buzz about the last 12 months was all feel-good as India won almost every ODI outing, be it a series (both bilateral and tri) or a global tournament (ICC Champions Trophy) and was fittingly placed at the number one slot in the ICC rankings, writes K.C. Vijaya Kumar.

It was largely a year of the good times, if you were an Indian cricketer, wearing the blue shade and revealing your wares back home or across continents. But as 2013 was winding down, M. S. Dhoni’s men suffered a blip, losing the three-match ODI series in South Africa 0-2, after rains truncated the third game at Centurion’s SuperSport Park.

However, the overwhelming buzz about the last 12 months was all feel-good as India won almost every ODI outing, be it a series (both bilateral and tri) or a global tournament (ICC Champions Trophy) and was fittingly placed at the number one slot in the ICC rankings.

It was a fact that was not lost on the South African think-tank and it was weird to watch the Proteas captain AB de Villiers deferentially refer to India’s number one status after his side had whipped the visitors. It all boiled down to the respect that the ‘Men in Blue’ had gained over the past year with their sheer weight of performances.

Just like the way the year ended, it also began with mixed feelings as India lost in Kolkata and won the third and final match of an ODI series against Pakistan in Delhi, but yet lost the series 1-2 due to a defeat suffered in the first game in Chennai during December’ 2012.

England then embarked on a tour of India and while the visiting team stretched the host, the latter had the last word, winning 3-2. It was the appetiser to the main course that was dished out once the Indians landed at London’s Heathrow Airport for the ICC Champions Trophy, which was a silverware that was missing in the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai while the World Cup (two at that) and the ICC World Twenty20 trophies adorned its shelves.

Literally it was the ‘last chance saloon’ in terms of winning the trophy as the tournament was winding up after its stint in England. And just as it had happened in the past, destiny’s child, Dhoni, could not be denied and the title triumph in the ICC Champions Trophy was India’s acme in a year that was littered with many scaling of other peaks in ODI cricket.

India remained undefeated all through, registering victories over South Africa, the West Indies, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and England (in the final). And just as Dhoni’s gut-feeling backed Joginder Sharma during the 2007 ICC World Twenty20 final in South Africa, the skipper this time banked on Ishant Sharma in a rain-marred summit-clash that eventually turned out to be a 20-over biff.

Ishant, who was caned in his previous overs, struck in his final over, picking two wickets including Eoin Morgan’s and soon India was popping the champagne. India’s dominance was complete and three of its batsmen — Shikhar Dhawan (363 runs), Rohit Sharma (177) and Virat Kohli (176) — and two of its bowlers, Ravindra Jadeja (12 wickets) and Ishant (10), were in the tournament’s top-five categories. Incidentally, Dhawan and Jadeja were the event’s highest run-getter and wicket-taker, respectively.

After a disastrous England tour in 2011, the turnaround in the Champions Trophy was truly scintillating and Dhoni became that rare captain, who had won all three ICC events — World Cup, World Twenty20 and Champions Trophy. A brave new India was strutting around in the limited overs arena in which Kohli was the prima donna batsman while men like Dhawan and Rohit also began to flower.

Dhoni remained the adept finisher as always and that trait was again visible in the subsequent tri-series final against Sri Lanka in the West Indies. In a chase that was mired in the dirge of falling wickets, Dhoni, nursing an injured leg, and with last-man Ishant for company, won the contest in the final over when 15 were needed.

The skipper then took a long-needed break, travelling the world on a holiday with his wife Sakshi, while an Indian team led by Kohli travelled to Zimbabwe and returned with a 5-0 verdict. The flurry of fun times followed the Indians and when George Bailey’s Australians landed for a series, Dhoni’s men kept their nose ahead at 3-2. It was a series that will be remembered for Kohli’s growing stature and Rohit’s 209 in the last game in Bangalore, on an unforgettable Diwali night.

Form and fortune though did not accompany the Indian team in its South African Airways flight to Johannesburg on December 2 and defeats triggered by Dale Steyn were inevitable but as de Villiers pointed out — you cannot write off an Indian team in ODIs. And when you rewind 2013, the overwhelming image would be the ICC Champions Trophy triumph and Kohli’s searing runs (1268 from 34 matches at an average of 52.83 with four hundreds), mostly etched in chases mounted against all odds.