Kohli, Ashwin rule on field; Lodha garners eye-balls off it


He had a ‘few good men’ at his disposal and Virat Kohli transformed them into a champion outfit with generous helping from his trusted lieutenant Ravichandran Ashwin even as Indian cricket faced a massive credibility crisis with its freedom curbed beyond 22 yards.

There is a saying that “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way,” and the Indian captain seemed to walk the talk as he catapulted the Test team to the top of the world rankings with brilliant batting and inspirational leadership.

And then he had his lethal weapon, the enforcer responding to the name of Ravichandran Ashwin, whose super human efforts exceeded all expectations with one match-winning effort after another.

With Ashwin being conferred the ICC’s ‘Test Cricketer of the Year’, hopefully Indian cricket’s search for the ‘Next Kapil Dev’ ends.

Perhaps, Indian cricket does not even need a ‘Next Kapil Dev’ as it now has its ‘First Ravichandran Ashwin’.

While the men in white flannels were providing their die-hard fans with immense joy, the administration was caught in a tangle as one of the country’s most well-run sports body faced complete overhaul .

The trigger for this was far-reaching recommendations by Justice R M Lodha committee on the directive of Supreme Court.

The administrators, for most part, were busy firefighting but the men who mattered — the cricketers — made winning a habit with 9 triumphs out of the 12 Test matches played this year.

A 2-0 win in the Caribbean followed by 3-0 rout of New Zealand and 4-0 drubbing of England showed that Kohli’s boys never took their foot off the pedal.

The skipper’s 1215 runs with a hat-trick of double hundreds in three back-to-back series set a benchmark and the ‘Crazy Diamond’ Ashwin only took it a notch higher with 72 wickets in the season along with 612 runs.

There will be ‘Doubting Thomases’ and rightly so as they would like to wait how the team under the guidance of Anil Kumble performs when it hits road on foreign shores.

But then England looked out of sorts in India with below-par spinners in their ranks, Australia are going through a transformation having lost to South Africa, who in turn had looked clueless against India, only a year back.

The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in eating and while the jury is still out on India’s ability to win outside the sub-continent, it does not take away anything from the side’s fantastic performance during the last five months starting from the West Indies series.

There is no point in eulogising Kohli — the Match winner as it is well-known for the past five years — but what was phenomenal was the effortless ease with which he carried the burden of leading the Test team.

A team he created from scratch and it now has atleast five or six match-winners.

Ashwin’s metamorphosis from a defensive bowler to an attacker happened under Kohli. The eight five-fors and three 10-wicket hauls in this year’s Test matches placed him at the cusp of being quickest bowler to 250 Test wickets.

For Kohli the batsman, the year started with a couple of memorable T20 knocks during World T20 — a match-winning half-century against Pakistan on a wicked Eden Gardens track followed by an epic knock against Australia at Mohali — something which will be remembered for a long time to come.

The contours of emotion in his facial expression after India’s energy-sapping defeat on a Wankhede belter against the West Indies will also be etched in the memory.

Elsewhere, the calls to replace Mahendra Singh Dhoni got louder and even a biopic, which at best was a feel-good Bollywood potboiler, has not been able to lower the decibels.

And Kohli’s style of captaincy, his involvement and ability to engage has only made it evident that it will be a matter of time before the ‘heir apparent’ takes over the mantle.

One witnessed a new dimension to ‘Test batsman Kohli’ as he showed the art of saving a Test match with his defensive batting against England at Rajkot. The innings of 49 not out will be as significant as his double hundreds.

While Karun Nair will always be feted for his triple hundred — only the second Indian after Virender Sehwag to do so in Tests, Kohli’s 235 on a sporting track at Wankhede was a delight for the purists of the game.

His fitness standard has become a talking point in international cricket and the new crop of players are ready to follow the ‘Virat Model of Fitness’.

The manner in which he tackled both spin and pace and then Jimmy Anderson’s critical comments about his performance with all that dignity and poise was an example of how he has worked on himself.

The structure of Indian cricket’s supply system is also firmly in place as players like Karun Nayar, Jayant Yadav, KL Rahul have all shown that they are battle ready for big-time international cricket.

Three potent fast bowlers in outswing bowler Umesh Yadav, exponent of reverse swing Mohammed Shami and hit-the-deck-man Ishant Sharma augurs well.

Ravindra Jadeja provides perfect foil for Ashwin with his all-round abilities and the bits and pieces cricketers like Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya are ready to fit into any jigsaw puzzle.

In fact, it would be fair to say that Indian cricket’s on-field future looks sorted atleast.

However, off the field BCCI looked set for a complete overhaul with Supreme Court’s stinging observations tightening the noose around the mandarins of the richest sports body.

The pandora’s box that opened way back in 2013 after the spot-fixing scandal has come to haunt BCCI big time.

In between, Jagmohan Dalmiya’s death last year followed by Shashank Manohar deciding to leave the home board for the safer confines of independent chairmanship of ICC left current incumbent Anurag Thakur with a crown of thorns.

It is a matter of conjecture whether some of the reforms like One State-One Vote, Age Cap of 70 years, cooling off period of three years after each term are easily implementable or not but BCCI is in a tight corner.

Around the world, ‘Pink ball’ Test slowly gained popularity while South Africa’s series win in Australia and Pakistan’s praiseworthy performance in England were worth noting.

Faf du Plessis’ ball tampering controversy and a classic hundred at the Adelaide were the highlights of South Africa’s win against Australia which led to wholesale changes.

England’s Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Pakistan’s Azhar Ali, Yasir Shah along with the ever-dependable Misbah-ul-Haq were some of the star performers in international cricket throughout the year.

The private leagues and their impact got bigger as Test cricket in West Indies fought an existential crisis with top players still at loggerheads with country’s cricket board.

An eventful and even more colourful 2017 awaits as far as international cricket is concerned.

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