Reputation as a Test team in tatters

Hundred hundreds... Sachin Tendulkar holds a plaque presented to him after he scored his 100th International century during the Asia Cup against Bangladesh in Dhaka on March 16, 2012.-AP

It was a year of harsh acceptance for Indian cricket. The journey was made more painful by the failures of Sachin Tendulkar, the dismissal in the Nagpur Test against England a reality check on the master’s miserable form, down and out, quite similar to India’s showing in 2012, writes Vijay Lokapally.

It was a tortuous year for Indian cricket. The gains were few, the losses humungous and frightening, the future gloomy, and yet there were reasons to celebrate, even if meagre.

India’s reputation as a Test team was tattered. The inglorious performance in Australia at the beginning of the year put things in perspective as India continued to struggle overseas. By the end of the year it proved a spineless team at home too against England, losing the four-match series 1-2.

The poor quality of domestic cricket reflected in the slack flow of talent at the next level. Bred on placid pitches, the Indian batsmen floundered when confronted by genuine pace, swing and bounce, but no lessons were learnt since defeats did not hurt the team anymore.

End of an era... V.V.S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid quit international cricket during the year.-

The crushing losses in Australia — Sydney, Perth and Adelaide — were embarrassing. It was a throwback to the early years when India would travel overseas with victories rare and defeats galore. A draw would look like a victory. Under Mahendra Singh Dhoni the team had forgotten the art of winning. It caused greater grief considering Dhoni’s excellent leadership qualities in the 2011 World Cup.

The year saw Indian cricket bid adieu to two of its greatest batsmen and trusted match-winners. Rahul Dravid seeking retirement in March and V. V. S. Laxman in August left Indian cricket poorer. A glorious chapter had come to an end.

To their credit, Dravid and Laxman exited gracefully, leaving the space for their replacements to grow ahead of the many overseas challenges. It was a sad coincidence that the Adelaide defeat against Australia turned out to be their final Test appearances. The same venue had seen an epic show by Dravid and Laxman in 2003-04.

Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli have done well to cement their place in the Indian side after the exit of Dravid and Laxman.-PTI

Dravid and Laxman had contributed immensely, bringing stability to the middle-order, their skills adding awesome depth to the batting line-up. Dravid was rock-like and Laxman adventurous and both had played enviable roles in India’s rise as a team to reckon with in world cricket. Their departure meant hard days for India in cricket overseas.

Two bright prospects grabbed the opportunity that came their way following the duo’s retirement. Virat Kohli emerged a strong contender to become Indian batting’s mainstay and Cheteshwar Pujara promised to step into the anchorman’s role with a couple of outstanding performances.

Kohli’s was a dazzling show. The 116 in Adelaide had quality written all over and he followed it with centuries against New Zealand in Bangalore and against England in Nagpur. He enjoyed a tremendous run in the one-dayers with five centuries and a 66 in eight innings. His sequence was an astonishing 133, 108, 66, 183, 106, 1, 38 and an unbeaten 128. “I was in a zone, reacting to the situation. I just backed myself to make the most of the good form,” said Kohli, the emerging star of Indian cricket.

Pujara’s hard work established him in the Test team. His sixth innings in Tests was a crucial feat, a 159 against New Zealand in Hyderabad. It gave him the confidence that he indeed belonged to the big stage. Three innings later he proved his credentials with a 206 not out in Ahmedabad against England and followed it up with a 135 in Mumbai. Three centuries in six Test innings raised Pujara’s stock in Indian cricket. He deserved it, having waited long and worked extremely hard to earn the laurels.

Before the year ended, one saw three veterans losing their Test spots. A struggling Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh fell out of favour as the new selection committee looked at fresh options. Yuvraj Singh’s inconsistency too cost him a place after earning a recall to Test cricket.

Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh fell out of favour with the new selection committee.-PTI

There was not much to cheer about in one-day cricket too. At the fag end of the year, Sachin Tendulkar announced his exit from this form of the game. India won nine matches, tied one and won nine but fans remembered the decline in the Asia Cup more. After a win against Sri Lanka, the team was shattered by the loss against Bangladesh before India beat Pakistan.

The contest against Bangladesh was marked by Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th international century. The wild celebrations of his individual achievement drowned the Asia Cup debacle but there was no escaping the fact that India had hugely suffered as a team.

India’s record in T20 was encouraging with six wins in 10 matches. The early exit from the T20 World Cup hardly helped the team to enhance its reputation. The victories in the T20 World Cup came against Afghanistan, England, Pakistan and South Africa.

It was a year of harsh acceptance for Indian cricket. The journey was made more painful by the failures of Sachin Tendulkar, the dismissal in the Nagpur Test against England a reality check on the master’s miserable form, down and out, quite similar to India’s showing in 2012.