India December 29, 2016

The golden boys

Just about everything came up roses for India in 2016

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Four ODIs in Australia, one T20I in a bilateral series against Sri Lanka in India, the World T20 opener and semi-final, one T20I each in Zimbabwe and the USA, and two ODIs in the five-match series against New Zealand. Eleven matches lost in 12 months. Not a single Test among them. This at a time when cricket is played all year round.

It has undoubtedly been India's year in international cricket. No team has won as much in 2016. Their win-loss ratio of 2.818 is streets ahead of the next best team, South Africa, who won 1.818 international matches for every loss in 2016*. Speaking purely statistically, this was also India's best year in international cricket: they have won 31 matches, two more than their previous best, and have never managed such a good win-loss ratio.

KL Rahul: new and improved in 2016 © AFP

Only three times before this have India won more than twice as many matches as they have lost in a year. Like in 1993 (win-loss ratio of 2.666), 1994 (2.222) and 2013 (2.636), India have played much more at home than away this year, but to win close to three matches every four times you play is not to be scoffed at, no matter where you play them. There was a certain ruthlessness to India when they were ahead in 2016, and resilience when they were down. Except for the ODI series in Australia, never did they look listless.

It was a year in which coach Anil Kumble's pragmatism teamed up with Test captain Virat Kohli's ambition and aggression. Kohli pushed for positivity - even dropping Cheteshwar Pujara and M Vijay at one point - and Kumble reinforced faith in his solid cricketers. Outside the national set-up, India A and India Under-19 coach Rahul Dravid made sure match-ready cricketers were available whenever there were injuries. Jayant Yadav and Karun Nair were perfect examples; even Kohli was surprised how ready they were and how quickly they learned.

India's lower order was the best in the world, providing them the liberty to play an extra bowler, which made all the difference when the days got long and tight. The home Tests were played on traditional Indian pitches and not on designer tracks as in 2015, something former team director Ravi Shastri spoke of on air. India's performance in Tests in 2016 was more wholesome than in 2015.

Vijay and Pujara were support acts with the bat, Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammed Shami with the ball, but the leaders were unmistakable. Kohli batted with discipline in Tests; at one point he played just one lofted shot off 805 balls of spin. He willed India through to the World T20 semi-final. He scored ODI centuries in vain in Australia, but chased stupendously against New Zealand at home. With the ball, R Ashwin missed a lot of limited-overs cricket but was peerless in the longest form. Not to mention, he got runs almost every time India were in a trouble.

High point
England inaugurated India's slide with a 4-0 whitewash in 2011. Next year they beat India 2-1 in India. In 2014 they had thrashed India 3-1 in England. Arguably New Zealand were the better side of the two India blanked in their home season in 2016, but finally getting one past England will have been sweet - and sweeter still because the 4-0 series win came on fair pitches, despite losing four tosses, and from playing high-intensity cricket for longer than their opposition, as opposed to spectacular cricket.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Low point
The bowling on flat pitches in Australia and the outfielding on those big grounds were a concern, but the major heartbreak was the defeat in the World T20 semi-final. The sheer occasion and anticipation in the home T20 World Cup make the defeat a low point, even if India lost to the eventual champions, an undisputedly better T20 side. The way India came back from the first defeat, the way they survived despite ordinary cricket against Bangladesh, the way Kohli carried them through to the semi-final, the memories of the 50-over World Cup win at the Wankhede in 2011 - it all combined to give an impression that the title win was perhaps preordained. So the heartbreak when they couldn't find a way past West Indies' might.

New kid on the block
He was a nervous wreck when he debuted in India's last Test of 2014, but KL Rahul has been India's most improved cricketer over the last two years. All through 2015 and the first half of 2016, he was still a back-up Test opener and considered too old-fashioned for the limited-overs side. In the IPL this year he went through a metamorphosis. He worked on his strength and conditioning to add more yards to his hits. Reverse sweeps appeared. The solidity never left. There were hundreds in each format; Tamim Iqbal was the only other player to achieve the feat.

Sweet as: India turned the tables on England after three series losses to them © Associated Press

What 2017 holds
MS Dhoni will definitely get a chance to become part of the conversation again, when he leads India to their Champions Trophy title defence in England. The Test side is young and fit and likely to continue its dominance. According to the current FTP, India are scheduled to host Australia in four Tests; not many will bet against a repeat of the 4-0 scoreline from 2013. They are also scheduled to go back to Sri Lanka, which should be a close contest given how Sri Lanka too have discovered batting talent to replace their legends. By all reckonings, we will be denied the most mouth-watering contest of 2017: a full home series against Pakistan.

India will need to decide whether Dhoni can go on till the 2019 World Cup. And if he can, will he do so as captain or as just a player? The rest will be about preparing for 2018, when India are due to tour South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia, a sort of reverse of 2016.

* Stats current up to December 25, 2016

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Manan on January 2, 2017, 15:33 GMT

    Team for england champion trophy based in english pitches in early summer 1) Rahane 2) Rohit 3) Kohli 4)Dhoni 5)Rahul 6)Ashwin 7)H Pandya 8) Raina 9)Bhuvi 10)Shami 11)Bumrah 12)Jadeja 13)M Pandey 14)S sharma 15) I Pathan 16) R Pant

  • mahmoo3521013 on December 31, 2016, 11:20 GMT

    wait till 2018

  • Zafer Abid on December 31, 2016, 7:29 GMT

    That 8-0 in 2011, home defeat against Eng 2012 and losing last two tests in England 2014 has set the bar so low that whatever bad things Kohli will do from now on would be an improvement over Dhoni. These plus drawn first test in SA, Mccullum triple in Nz, handling of Zaheer(in final stages of his career) and Shami (after injury) - about twenty or so of the last 30 tests in MSDs captaincy made my life as an India fan pathetic and miserable. I even stopped watching cricket for some time. I accept that with the current squad, we may still not win in Aus/Eng/SA but also confident that it will be better than 8-0@2011. It will be interesting to see what Kohli does if he faces a real tough problem like our best bowler getting injured in the first test of a series. Faf has shown to the world that much can be achieved from such really desperate situations and is currently the best captain in the world IMHO.

  • Unni on December 31, 2016, 5:12 GMT

    2017 end - 2018 end is going to be the real crucial period for indian cricket. It will be time when Kohli and boys prove they are just home bullys or whether they have it to take on South Africa Australia and England. They have already won one-off tests there. Yet to win a series in a long long time (barring England 2007)

    Nov 2017 - Jan 2018 - India play South Africa in South Africa. Expect Steyn to be back by then. Yes he will be past his best but South Africa will have Philander, abbott and Rabada. If the pitches ae like the one Sri Lanka played, I am confident we can draw/ win

    Jun - Aug 2018 - India tour England. Anderson would have hopefully retired after the Ashes in January 2018 a good 1 year from now. If Kohli and some of his team mates have some pratice county matches before the tour, they will do much better than their last 2 disastrous tours. Cook may have retired by then (1.5 years from now) and Root could be captain

    Nov 2018 - Jan 2019 - Australia tour 2 years from now

  • SHREYA12 on December 30, 2016, 19:03 GMT

    India should continue to be bold in selections. The choices are many for home series, so no issues there. For overseas tours, just like we have separate teams for Tests and ODIs, a few players should be selected just for touring conditions (who normally may not have been in the team at home). This has not been the case in the past (going by the apalling batting performances in England and Australia over the last 4 tours there). For example, openers and the number 3 slot have been apalling with the big exception of Vijay (every one else failed in the 4 tours). so the selection team has to be bold and be ready for potential replacements and on hand on tours. If the top 5 batsmen perform solidly on tours (as we likely have the best supply of batting potential), it will result in competitive series. This would mean a larger contingent, but BCCI should be able to pay for this. BCCI has been making some changes with more variety in the Ranji pitches, especially for swing bowling.

  • SHREYA12 on December 30, 2016, 18:29 GMT

    The biggest improvement for this team of golden boys this year has been doing well in batting for a draw (as Kohli's previous emphasis has been to go for it aggressively), it remains to be seen how they will do in swinging/pacy/bouncy pitches overseas on this aspect. In bowling, of course we have improvements in all the frontline bowlers. India now also has a better selection committe with CSK Prasad leading well. Having a head coach, especially someone like Kumble has been working well so far. . he has this very practical and sensible approach so far. India is also benefiting from Dravid coaching the under 19 teams. He has been giving very valuable insights to players and developing them. It has been a crucial contribution so far. So all the pieces of the puzzle have come together for team India for the test team this year.

  • SHREYA12 on December 30, 2016, 18:03 GMT

    Winning at home is very important and this team has done very convincingly. England is a good team and were beaten by India fair and square. Winning consistently on tours in conditions different from home is quite difficult these days, due to the modern demands of cricket (there is hardly any time for players to prepare for a tour to England/Australia like they used to in the past, as there is just no time for that). To be considered a great team, there is no doubt that this Indian team will need to do much better than the previous tours to England and Australia. First and foremost, the batsmen will need to be able to play much longer than they have in the past. This will atleast result in more draws. If our premier bowlers are fit, Shami, Umesh and Bhuvi can do well in England (for example). We still need our spinners to get important wickets on tours for wins. I will be very happy if we at least draw series in England and Australia. They will be closer this time around hopefully. :)

  • sam on December 30, 2016, 14:43 GMT

    @Electric_Loco_Wap4 Well if winning a test series WI is SO EASY how come two of your favorite teams, Pakistan and SL, have never done it even once in their history? And don't worry, India will most probably win their next test series in NZ. Winning in SA, Aus and Eng in a 4+ test series is difficult as I still believe our pacers lack a bit of discipline if asked to bowl long spells but given SA's decline in batting department and England's prospective decline in bowling with Anderson and Broad aging it is not entirely impossible to envision an Indian Test Series victory in SA and Eng. Winning a test series in Aus remains a very difficult and close to impossible proposition but Kohli I think he will have a plan which may work.

  • Unni on December 30, 2016, 13:04 GMT

    The best series win in this year was the T20 whitewash in Australia. No country has ever whitewashed Australia in Australia *ever* in any form of cricket

  • Nish on December 30, 2016, 6:30 GMT

    These opportunistic Pakistan fans who are trying to have a dig at India here, should instead worry about the current performances of their own team instead! Despite scoring over 400+ runs in the Boxing Day Test against the Aussies, they still contrived to lose the Test in succumbing to an embarrassing innings defeat with the series now lost too!

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