The gentleman’s game hit a new low in 2018 when two of the world’s finest batsmen — Steve Smith and David Warner — copped year-long bans from Cricket Australia for their involvement in the infamous ‘sandpaper gate’ scandal while in India, it was marred by “MeToo” allegations against the BCCI CEO Rahul Johri before he was re-instated after the charges found very few takers, even as the administrative mess continues.
On the field, while the start was inauspicious in South Africa, India capped off the year on a resounding note, thus stamping their authority as the top ranked Test side when they took an unprecedented 2-1 lead in the four-Test series over Australia, after beating the Kangaroos by 137 runs in the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne.
India, however, started off the year on a disappointing note, losing 1-2 to South Africa in Tests but in the six-match ODI series that followed, the men-in-blue banked on the brilliance of skipper Virat Kohli (558 runs) and chinaman Kuldeep Yadav (17 wickets) to finally break the jinx and beat the Proteas 5-1 for the first time in their own den.
Following his batting exploits in South Africa, where he was the lone century-maker in the Tests, Kohli went on to tame the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad in the five-Test rubber against England, where he amassed 593 runs.
Later in the year, Kohli toured Australia for a four-Test rubber, where he smashed his 25th Test ton in the second Test at Perth which, however India lost by 141 runs as the Aussies squared things up after going down by 32 runs in the opener.
In the process, Kohli broke a 16-year-old record by batting legend Rahul Dravid to become the highest run getter for India in away Test matches in a calendar year. Dravid had set the record in 2002 when he amassed 1,137 runs.
Kohli achieved the milestone during the first innings of the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. Walking in to bat 82 runs shy of Dravid’s mark, the fiery Delhi lad needed 204 deliveries to complete the feat. Unfortunately for him, he was dismissed for a duck in the second innings and was thus unable to increase his tally.
In ODIs, the 30-year-old broke Sachin Tendulkar’s record and became the fastest to get 10,000 runs. Off the field, Kohli too enjoyed a change in his relationship status after marrying Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma.
Sans Kohli, India also enjoyed success in the limited overs formats under the leadership of Rohit Sharma, who led the side to fantastic wins in the Nidahas Trophy triangular T20 series in Sri Lanka before guiding the side to their 7th Asia Cup triumph in Dubai.
Veteran stumper Dinesh Karthik did a Javed Miandad to help India clinch a last-ball thriller against Bangladesh in the final of the Nidahas trophy. Needing a six off the last ball, Karthik smashed the ball out of the park to script a memorable win.
India met Bangladesh once again in the Asia Cup final, where Kedar Jadhav turned into an overnight hero when he returned to bat with a hamstring injury and got the men-in-blue the winning run.
Considered as one of the giants in white-ball cricket, India’s main focus in the upcoming year will be firmly on the 2019 ICC World Cup that will be hosted by England and Wales.
Coming to the domestic cricket carnival the — Indian Premier League (IPL) — also witnessed the Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led Chennai Super Kings roaring back from a two-year ban, to clinch their third title.
India’s domestic circuit also went through a lot of changes. In the Ranji Trophy, teams from the Northeast like Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya participated as different teams for the first time. Puducherry, a union territory, also fielded a side for the first time.
The Ranji Trophy witnessed Madhya Pradesh’s Ajay Rohera break a 25-year-old record by registering the highest score by a debutant in First Class cricket, with his 267 against Hyderabad beating Amol Muzumdar’s 260 which he made in 1993.
The image of the gentleman’s game took a beating when rookie Australia opener Cameron Bancroft was caught on television cameras while apparently trying to alter the condition of the ball with a piece of sandpaper on the third day of the Cape Town Test against South Africa.
The incident led to year-long bans on then captain Smith and then vice-captain Warner while Bancroft was banned for 9 months.
While cricket fans await the return of the banned Warner and Smith, it was heartening to see the return of the 26-year-old Bancroft in the Big Bash League (BBL) on Sunday.
Elsewhere in world cricket, the year witnessed the birth of two new Test-playing nations in Ireland and Afghanistan, who showed a lot of promise in their maiden Tests despite going down against Pakistan and India, respectively.
Across another continent, South African great Dale Steyn bending his back once again in Tests to claim the magical 422nd wicket and go past Shaun Pollock as the Proteas highest Test wicket-taker.
The year also witnessed a number of greats fading into the sunset with Gautam Gambhir, the architect of India’s 2011 World Cup triumph leading the list. Among the other prominent names to bid goodbye to the game are former England Test captain Alastair Cook, ex-Protea skipper AB de Villiers, India’s Mohammed Kaif, Sri Lankan spin-bowling great Rangana Herath, West Indian all-rounder Dwayne Bravo.
In women’s cricket, the focus was mainly on the World T20 which Australia won by beating arch-rivals England.
But for Indian fans it was the off-field feud between the veteran Mithali Raj and former interim coach Ramesh Powar, after an in-form Mithali was deliberately benched from the crucial semi-final, that the women-in-blue lost to England.
Mithali came back disappointed and her letter slamming Powar and Diana Edulji, one of the members of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA), made it easy for the BCCI to appoint a new coach in former India opener W.V.Raman as the new head coach of the women’s team.
Diana, however, slammed the appointment of Raman but failed to find any takers as the CoA chief Vinod Rai has hardly been found on the same page with Diana on a number of issues, which has led to the continuous administrative mismanagement in the BCCI.