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A home season of gains and gains for Team India

For Team India the importance of this season was beyond the results.

By Shubh Aggarwal -

Thirteen tests in a space of 6 months is a hectic schedule, but now when you look back at it, it feels like it went in blink of an eye. Some teams don’t play that many tests in a whole year as India did in a single home season.

Reminiscing about it, India would be very happy with the result of each of the series they played; where they lost just one test against four nations. But for the hosts, the importance of this season was beyond the results. It was about grooming a young team India under a new captain for future overseas tours.

The occasion was perfect. An away series against a tepid West Indies side to get into the groove to face teams like New Zealand, England and Australia at home. Three top sides who tested India unlike South Africa in 2015.

From the first day of the first test against New Zealand in Kanpur to the last day of the Test series against Australia in Dharamsala, there were many moments when India were under the pump on home turf. Most of the Test wins this season were about winning these crucial moments and India was not short of players who had the ability to take the team out of those pressure situations.

The biggest positive for India in this season was the form of the pacers. In a country known for producing great batsmen and spinners, it was the fast bowlers who pleased spectators the most.

Umesh Yadav survived throughout the season without getting injured and by the end of the season, he found some impeccable consistency that the Indian team was yearning from him. He kept getting better and better as the season progressed. His bowling average and strike rate dipped from 62 and 138 against New Zealand to 23.41 and 45.5 against bowling 355.5 overs in the season without breaking down. His opening spell in the second innings of the Dharamsala Test was a deciding factor in the series, where he exposed the middle order to the Indian spinners early for Australia’s liking.

Unfortunately, Mohammed Shami picked up an injury against England; but even he hit bull’s eye with both pace and accuracy. His in-swinger to Alastair Cook which broke the English captain’s off stump will remain as a nostalgic memory in the mind of every Indian cricket fan for a long time.

Ishant Sharma bowled his heart out like a workhorse. He will be remembered more for his funny ‘game faces’ than his wickets tally. He kept the pressure on the batsmen at one end with a bowling economy of just 2.65 throughout the season.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar played just 4 games (one against each opponent) and his 5-wicket haul in Kolkata never gave New Zealand any chance in the game. Overall, India played just 4 fast bowlers in the season where Umesh Yadav rose to prominence. He has now cemented his spot in the side as the priemier fast bowler. If India ever decides to play 3 pace bowlers, Shami and Umesh will be the first choice with the option of Ishant’s pace/bounce and Bhuvi’s accuracy/swing to fill the last spot.

Spinners enjoyed a great run on home tracks. Ashwin and Jadeja played all the games and were brilliant. The pair took 153 wickets between them out of the 260 on offer. Jadeja started out as Ashwin’s supporting act, but now matches him shoulder-to-shoulder. He proved that he could bowl on any wicket and the result is the no. 1 ranking as a test bowler.

The only thing Jadeja missed out this season was a Test hundred, as he notched up 6 crucial half-centuries. Ashwin looked a little tired towards the end, but his 3 wickets in the second innings of the final Test proves his dominance on Indian pitches.

Jayant Yadav took 11 wickets in his 4 tests and scored his first Test hundred and impressed one and all. Amit Mishra would be highly disappointed as he failed to capitalize the 2 chances he got. In the last test, India found another match winner in Kuldeep Yadav. Starting with 2 prime spinners, India now have 2 off spinners and 2 left-arm spinners (both orthodox and unorthodox) in their future plans.

As a batting unit India enjoyed four totals of 600+ in 13 tests. The big question for India was finalizing on an opening partner for Murali Vijay. With Shikhar Dhawan and Gautam Gambhir in contention, it was the young KL Rahul who won the spot.

A highest score of 199 against England and 6 crucial fifties on some tough tracks and against a resilient Australian bowling attack should be enough to keep selectors interested in Rahul for overseas tour. Except the opening slot, there were big question marks over the batting form of Cheteshwar Pujara and keeper Wriddhiman Saha.

Pujara was getting bogged down too often, slowing the pace of the game and was always getting out in the 30s despite facing over 100 balls. But Pujara managed to answer all his critics by scoring a truckload of runs along with facing a truckload of deliveries.

He scored 1300+ runs in 13 tests with 4 hundreds and 8 fifties. His 202 in Ranchi bored Australia out of the Test match. If Pujara shielded the Indian batting at the top, then in the lower order, India had Wriddhiman Saha. Parthiv Patel made a brief appearance in Test cricket and did well when Saha was out with an injury. But Saha reclaimed his spot and may have closed the doors for any possible return of Parthiv Patel thanks to brilliant contribution He was brilliant with the gloves as well and the proof were some unbelievable catches off spinners and pacers.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Saha and Pujara justified their spot, however Ajinkya Rahane and Murali Vijay had a roller-coaster season. Vijay scored 3 hundreds, but his overall average dropped down to an ordinary 36. The last time Rahane looked in complete control was during his 188 against New Zealand. But thanks to their overseas exploits, they are still the mainstay in the batting line up.

Last but not the least, captain Virat Kohli had an enjoyable season both as a batsman and as a captain. Just 12 months ago, he did not have a single double century in Test cricket and now he has four. His 235 against England in Mumbai will go down as one of the finest double hundreds ever by an Indian batsman. However, a weak series against Australia dented a successful season, but an average of 65 over 13 tests is still a remarkable achievement.

Overall, India found most of their answers related to the team composition. Some key players got back their form, some newbies getting a good taste of international cricket and some memorable performances were seen with both bat and ball.

On the basis of results, with just one test defeat and acquiring the number 1 test ranking, India cannot complain much.