A forgettable year for Indian cricket

People around the world would like to forget 2020 — and probably erase it from their memories as well, if possible — because of Covid-19 pandemic. And most of the members of the Indian men and women cricket teams, too, would not look back at this year fondly for different reasons.

When one looks at 2020, which would go down in history as the ‘Year of Covid-19’, one finds that the performance of both men’s and women’s teams did not meet the expectations of millions of followers in cricket crazy India — and perhaps, their own, too.

And the recent debacle of Virat Kohli’s boys against the Aussies at the Adelaide Oval rubbed salt into the wounds of Indian cricket fans who have already been busy tackling the pandemic.

The men’s team played a total of 23 international matches — three Tests, 11 T20Is, nine ODIs, and 11 T20Is. It lost all three Tests this year — one Test is still to be played this year, against Australia, from December 26 in Melbourne — though it registered wins in 10 T20s and three ODIs, all against Australia.

Losing just one of the 11 T20 matches is appreciable. Had the T20 World Cup taken place this October, as originally scheduled, this performance would have been considered as good preparation. The World Cup has been postponed to the next year because of the pandemic.

However, it’s the other two formats — Tests and ODIs — that Kohli talks about and pays more importance to, where the team’s performance has been poor. While India lost six of the nine ODIs they played, they failed to register a single win in Test matches and even lost the number one spots both on the ICC rankings and the ICC Test Championship.

On the other hand, the Test team did not perform well. Towards the end of the year, India began the defence of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy on an abysmal note as they slumped to their lowest innings score in 88 years of Test cricket when they were dismissed for 36 runs in the second innings of the day-night first Test against Tim Paine’s Australia.

The scores of the Indian players read: 4, 9, 2, 0, 4, 0, 8, 4, 0, 4, 1, which newspapers used as their headlines to describe what turned out to be the most dismal batting performance by an Indian Test team ever.

With a match left to be played, the Boxing Day Test, there’s still plenty to ponder for the Indian team management. In Kohli’s absence, Ajinkya Rahane will have a herculean task of not only leading the team, but also lifting the morale of his teammates and making a comeback in the four-Test series.

On an individual note, Kohli, 32, the linchpin of Indian batting, finished the year without an international hundred — a first since his debut in international cricket in 2011. He played only nine ODI matches, three Tests and 10 T20s and his highest score was 89. But what will probably hurt Kohli the most is his last international outing this year.

Also, star players like Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, and Jasprit Bumrah were not able to win matches for their team.

Kohli believes the harsh lessons learned in the first Test will forge a stronger team for the Boxing Day Test and subsequent matches in Sydney and Brisbane.

“I am very, very confident that we will definitely learn from this. I don’t think we have ever had a worse batting performance, so we can only go upwards from here, and understand as a team we can do special things when we think of partnerships and batting together,” he said.

“So, I am very, very confident that we will bounce back strongly in the next one, and I have no doubts you will see guys stepping up and really realising their true character.”

And that’s something which not only Team India but Indian cricket fans would also be hoping for as they look to end what has been a year to forget.

On the women front, the Indian team played 11 international matches — all T20 internationals. Out of these they registered wins in eight matches. Going by the numbers, the performance of the Indian team looks highly impressive.

However, the three losses include one which will sting them the most — the final of the Women’s T20 World Cup against Australia on March 8 –the International Women’s Day — at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

In a game that saw a record attendance of 86,174 spectators — the biggest for a women’s cricket match ever — the Harmanpreet Kaur-led side was never in the hunt. Young sensation Shafali Verma dropped a sitter of Alyssa Healy in the very first over of Australia’s innings and the Indian eves could never recover from that. The mighty Aussies posted 184/4 in their allotted 20 overs, in reply of which the Indian team could muster only 99 runs, before getting bowled in the final over of the match.

The post-match scenes at the ground showed some of the young Indian players in tears, as they failed to clinch what would have been India’s maiden World Cup title for the Indian team. That was the last international game the women’s team played and are scheduled to tour Australia for a limited-overs series next year only.