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A significant year for the Indian team - Partab Ramchand Column
by Partab Ramchand
Dec 29, 2008
The results might have been mixed but there is no denying the fact that the positives far outweighed the negatives when it came to the Indian cricket team's performance during the year. In both Tests and ODIs the balance sheet showed ups and downs but the final figures also illustrate that Indian players put up some of the best performances during what was undoubtedly a significant year highlighted by some notable triumphs. The final seal of the upward graph was in the ICC rankings where India was second to Australia in the Test ratings and joint second with South Africa in the ODI ratings.

So many outstanding performances were notched up by Indian players that I really don't know where to start. But I suppose pride of place must go to Virender Sehwag's 319 the only triple hundred registered in Test cricket during the year. The swashbuckling opening batsman in fact was the most prolific run getter after Graeme Smith scoring 1462 runs with three hundreds at an average of 56 and a strike rate of almost 86. Also notable was Sehwag carrying his bat for 201 against Sri Lanka - a feat thought to be beyond him given his buccaneering batting style. With Gautam Gambhir he formed the most successful opening pair since the heady days of Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan.

Gambhir himself will look back on 2008 with fond memories. At the start of the year he was not yet established in the Test or ODI side. By the end of the year he had made himself a permanent fixture in both the teams. His batting was a revelation for he was one of the few players who could play the waiting game if needed or unleash attractive strokes which is his natural game. Gambhir finished the year with 1134 runs, third behind Smith and Sehwag with three hundreds and an impressively high average of almost 71.

The lustrous middle order more or less did their job admirably. Rahul Dravid found the going tough but the century against England at Mohali could well revive his career which also augurs well for the Indian team which is to shortly commence a tough tour of New Zealand. Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman continued to be hungry for success proof being provided by the former hitting four hundreds, becoming the highest run-getter in Tests and then going on to become the first to cross the 12,000-run mark. Laxman batted with his traditional style and substance an unbeaten double century against Australia being the highlight. Before he rode off into the sunset Sourav Ganguly went out on a high while Yuvraj Singh at last seemed to have cemented his place in the Test side. The batting might remained intact with the Indians notching up totals of 600 twice and 500 twice. But perhaps this was underlined best by the 387 for four they ran up in the fourth innings to defeat England at Chennai.

If the batting, Indian cricket's traditional strength, continued to come good the bowling did better than expected. Even as Anil Kumble took his final bow Harbhajan Singh rose to his responsibilities as senior spinner admirably and finished with 63 wickets from 13 Tests, second only to South African speedster Dale Steyn. Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan both did their growing reputation no damage while the promise of Amit Mishra augured well for the future. And to think that spinners like Piyush Chawla, Pragyan Ojha and Murali Kartik are waiting in the wings. On the subject of bench strength there are a number of young batsmen breathing down the necks of the seniors and should Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman retire within the next year or two there are many suitable claimants ready to step in. As far as pace bowling is concerned the scenario has never looked healthier with half a dozen contenders battling it out for places in the eleven.

Overall the Indians played 15 Tests, winning six and losing four while five were drawn. The year started with a 2-1 Test series loss in Australia which was along expected lines though the Indians played much positive cricket, conducted themselves impeccably during the bad-tempered Sydney Test besides scoring a great victory at Perth, Australia's traditional stronghold. A shared home series against South Africa was a fair result given the visitors' rising stature in world cricket and then came the highlight of the year - an emphatic 2-0 victory over Australia. The 1-0 win over England was predictable enough and the only serious blip was the series loss in Sri Lanka. But then the islanders have always been formidable opponents at home.

If the graph in the Test cricket scenario showed more ups than downs the same can be said about the Indian performance in ODIs. They started off with a notable triumph in the CB Series 'Down Under' the first time in six attempts the Indians were winning the prestigious limited overs competition. In the Kitply Cup in Bangladesh India lost to Pakistan in the final and a little later the Indians performed well enough in the Asia Cup in Pakistan before losing to Sri Lanka in the final. This was followed by another great victory in Sri Lanka - the first time the Indians were winning a bilateral series in the island nation. And at the end of the year they outplayed England at home 5-0 before the last two matches of the series were called off following the Mumbai terrorist attacks. In all, India played 29 ODIs, winning 19 and losing eight while two ended in no results.

The splendid record was brought about chiefly by the batting Indian cricket's traditional strength in the shorter version of the game too. Gambhir and MS Dhoni finished first and second in the run aggregate list while Sehwag and Yuvraj were at No 4 and 5 with Suresh Raina making it five Indians in the top ten. Yuvraj's back-to-back hundreds against England was one of the highlights of the year but not far behind was Gambhir's feat of getting three hundreds at an impressive strike rate of 90.5 and Sehwag's strike rate of 120 which was the highest among regular players. Thanks to such feats the Indians registered six scores of 300 plus the highest being 387 for five against England at Rajkot. The bowlers always in the shadow of the batsmen did their job commendably none more so than Ishant Sharma who with 27 wickets finished in the top ten.

But it was not just the batsmen and bowlers who shaped a notable year for Indian cricket. Dhoni was very much the man of the year not just for his batting and wicket keeping skills but as a leader who by the end of the year could walk on water. The ODI captain took over from Kumble as Test captain and uniquely led the team to victory in his first four matches as captain. He is now the undisputed monarch of Indian cricket as he deserves to be. Full marks also to the men behind the scenes particularly coach Gary Kirsten who did much to bring about an amiable atmosphere in the dressing room after the tempestuous tenure of Greg Chappell.
 
More Views by Partab Ramchand
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