Indian cricket in 2023: A King reclaims his throne but a heartbreak ruins it all | Cricket


The Indian cricket team in 2023 was like that unfortunate kid who passed all his class tests with flying colours, but failed in the main exams. A theatre artist who mastered in rehearsals but faltered under the spotlight, the racer who took pole in practice but finished second in the title race, the software engineer who dominated the simulation but faced glitches in the final build. The sailor who breezes through the roughest of weathers and still hits the iceberg.

Team India played the most outstanding cricket at the World Cup but it just wasn't supposed to be(Getty)
Team India played the most outstanding cricket at the World Cup but it just wasn’t supposed to be(Getty)

There’s little doubt that the following years was one of the best witnessed in the history of Indian cricket. They dominated bilaterals at both home and away, retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, lifted the Asia Cup after five years and won just its second-ever ODI series in South Africa, but once again missed out not once, but twice on an ICC silverware. Year after year, the frustration grows, and the management is left to answer the same question: Why the jitters? The nerves? The big-game pressure? When will the jinx end? As we culminate this emotion-filled year for Team India – both good and bad – let us take you through 2023’s recap and some defining moments in Indian cricket.

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A rare hat-trick over Australia

The Border Gavaskar Trophy was Rohit Sharma’s first real test as India’s Test captain, and despite what one may want to say about pitches, conditions, sun, clouds, taxes etc. he led India to a third-straight series win over Australia. In typical Indian conditions, Australia were rolled over – losing the first two Tests – before India got a taste of their own medicine. After winning the first Test by an innings and 132 runs in Nagpur, and then clinching another nine-wicket win in Delhi, India were stunned by a couple of rookie spinners in Indore. With a World Test Championship final to be played, Rohit boldly hinted at a seamer-friendly wicket for the decider in Ahmedabad, but in a plot twist, the surface in Ahmedabad was as dead as a dodo, where batter scored runs for fun and the match was drawn, thus awarding the series to India. Ravichandran Ashwin became the second-fastest bowler to take 450 wickets, this enhancing his reputation as the No. 1 spinner in the world and finished with 25 wickets, enough to earn him the prestige of the Player of the tournament award, which he had to share with Ravindra Jadeja. In Ahmedabad, Virat Kohli also broke the deadlock and hit his first Test ton in three years.

The Bumrah of now better than the Bumrah of old

Jasprit Bumrah‘s agonising year-long wait for a comeback was becoming a headache. But boy, when he returned, it was bloody worth it. Whatever he did during his time off was the best thing that could have happened to Team India as he came back with a razor’s edge. If the Bumrah before his back injury was menacing, this version of him was unstoppable. From the moment he dismissed Andrew Balbirnie and Lorcan Tucker in his first over since comeback, you knew it was different yet special.

In his first real challenge – India’s title-winning Asia Cup campaign, where Bumrahhad to bowl on Sri Lankan wickets, his vicious pace combined with probing banana swing set the tempo for India’s win over Pakistan. Even though it was Kuldeep who rattled Pakistan with a five-wicket-haul, Bumrah’s game-changing opening, where he made the batters fear for their life, making them hop, jump, duck for cover, beat their edge and drew out errors from them was just what India needed before the World Cup. Come the big stage, Bumrah’s economy of 4.06 with which he knocked over 20 wickets, was the best by the top 20 wicket-takers. Many wondered if Bumrah post his stress fracture would be as effective and incisive as before, whether he would be the Bumrah of old? Well… he is not. Because the Bumrah of now is even more lethal and deadlier than ever.

Gill’s fluctuating graph

Shubman Gill‘s topsy-turvy 2023 can be divided into two halves – before IPL and after it. Gill had become the toast of the nation in the first six months of the year. Three ODI centuries in four innings – including a double hundred – and a T20I ton – ascended him to the status of ‘Prince’, and when he finished the IPL for Gujarat Titans with an Orange Cap winning campaign, he was deemed as the heir to Kohli in terms of being the next big thing in Indian cricket, but ever since the WTC final, something wasn’t quite right. He managed to hit two more ODI tons, but they were neither consequential nor special. His form in the World Cup was hot and cold as Gill couldn’t do much in the games that mattered. In the ones he scored runs, his teammates did too. In Tests, Gill was demoted to No. 3 and in T20Is, he scored just one double-digit score since the 126 not out against New Zealand in Ahmedabad. Given his current form, the prince may not become the pauper just yet, but he sure isn’t in the same league as Kohli. At 24, Kohli was already smashing the best bowlers in the world.

Cometh the Hour, Cometh the King

Kohli is back… and how. If the second-half of 2022 gave Kohli back his confidence, this year he again attained the pinnacle of his batting prowess. He began the year with a century in his first innings of 2023 before going on to smash six more – three in less than a month. If scoring two IPL centuries was a teaser, and the flawless 122 against Pakistan at the Asia Cup a trailer, then Kohli unleashed a full one-month spectacle on the 70MM during the World Cup. Most runs in a single edition of the World Cup, breaking the legendary Sachin Tendulkar’s once-unbeatable record of 49 ODI centuries by scoring the elusive 50th was Kohli regaining his Kingdom as his place at the top. Kohli played like a dream in the World Cup. He was back acing chases, setting targets, achieving incredible milestones and more importantly, bringing smiles back on faces of this cricket-obsessed nation.

One a heartbreak, other the mother of them all

The two toughest days of the year for Team India were on June 11 and November 19. The latter is a different emotion altogether, so let’s relive the first heartbreak. At The Oval, India came tantalizingly close to lifting the WTC title for the second straight time, but the only thing common from Southampton 2021, was the result. India’s batting was no match as compared to the Aussies and surprisingly, their bowling line-up which once made picking 20 wickets look a norm, lacked bite. They pushed the game on to Day 5 but their fight ran out after another batting collapse gave Australia a win by 209 runs and their maiden WTC title. But if you thought this loss was crushing enough, wait for what happened four months later.

India, the best team of the tournament and easily the most deserving team of them all, fumbled at the final hurdle – the World Cup final – to finish second to Australia. It was a result no one envisioned. The Men in Blue had dished out their best-ever World Cup show – probably even better than 2011 – winning all nine league matches and breaking the semi-final hoodoo against bogey team New Zealand. But it was as if the universe conspired against the 11 players on the biggest day of their lives and career. A very different Indian team took the field that day as after Rohit’s dismissal, they hit only four boundaries in 40 overs. Despite putting up just 240, there was hope when India reduced Australia to 57/3, but the biggest prize in cricket was snatched away by Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne. Who could forget the sight of a teary-eyed Rohit quietly disappearing in the dressing room after the match? It was brutal. To see the Indian captain, who batted in a different zone throughout the tournament, and left every ounce of his energy, blood and sweat out there, walking off with moist eyes will go down as the most gut-wrenching visual in Indian cricket history. The dream had been crushed, hopes ended and an entire nation went into mourning. Some are yet to watch cricket since that dreaded day in Ahmedabad, while most are still in denial.

The Final Frontier C̶O̶N̶Q̶U̶E̶R̶E̶D̶

Nothing could ease the pain of India’s defeat at the World Cup final. But the one result that could ease some of it away and come closest to acting as a painkiller was the prospect of a first-ever Test series win in South Africa. Rohit Sharma and Kohli – the two active legends of Indian cricket – who were yet to smile wholeheartedly since Nov. 19, had a chance to bring some of it back, but even that was taken away from there as India simply fell apart in Centurion, losing inside three days. India have been beaten overseas before, beaten badly but this defeat was an abject surrender, almost as if the players had given up. The defeat by an innings and 32 runs marked a low point to end the year, but it’s not too late. With one more Test to go, a series-levelling win in Cape Town not only promises to act as a balm, but also signal an emphatic beginning of a new year.

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