Season review 2016-17 March 30, 2017

India's season of scraps and fightbacks

They won ten of 13 Tests in 2016-17, and lost one, but it wasn't all plain sailing: in nine matches, they fought back from difficult situations
68

India had to fight hard in the very first match of their mammoth home season © BCCI

1st Test v New Zealand, Kanpur
At the end of the second day of their first Test of the home season - and their 500th overall - India weren't exactly in trouble, but were being made to work extremely hard by a spirited New Zealand side. India had batted first and made a middling 318, and the visitors, in reply, were 152 for 1, with Tom Latham and Kane Williamson showing impressive technique and resolve against the spinners while putting on an unbroken 110 for the second wicket. A shower had brought day two to an early end, soon after a couple of frustrating moments for India - a catch had been disallowed when the ball had been found to hit the strap of KL Rahul's helmet during a juggled attempt to catch Latham at short leg, and an edge to the keeper from Williamson had gone undetected by the umpire.

Come day three, though, the spinners took immediate control.R Ashwin had Latham lbw in the fifth over of the morning, and then ripped a Murali-esque offbreak through Williamson's defences. In between, Ravindra Jadeja trapped Ross Taylor plumb. New Zealand had lost three wickets for 11 runs, and would never again get in an ascendant position in a match they would go on to lose by 197 runs.

2nd Test v New Zealand, Kolkata A relaid pitch gave the seamers more help than anyone might have expected before the match, and India, batting first, were in early trouble at 46 for 3 before Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane rescued them with a 141-run third-wicket stand. That, and lower-order contributions led by an unbeaten half-century from Wriddhiman Saha, led India to a first-innings total of 316.

The match seemed over as a contest when a Bhuvneshwar Kumar five-for sent New Zealand crashing to 204 all out, but India were still not home and dry. Matt Henry and Trent Boult roared in again, and reduced India to 43 for 4 - effectively 155 for 4 - in no time. Virat Kohli, after three low scores at the start of the series, began restoring India's position with a flawless, conditions-defying 46, and half-centuries from Rohit Sharma and, once again, Saha helped set a target of 376. New Zealand only managed 197.

Wriddhiman Saha hit unbeaten fifties in both innings after top-order collapses in Kolkata © Associated Press

1st Test v England, Rajkot
England couldn't have imagined a better start to their five-Test tour of India. They won the toss, batted first, and posted 537 thanks to hundreds from Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes. The prolific second-wicket pair of M Vijay and Pujara led India's response with a double-century stand, before England struck back with five wickets for 84 runs. India were still trailing by 176 at this stage - they drew closer to England's total thanks largely to 70 from Ashwin, and eventually conceded a first-innings lead of only 49.

It seemed then as if only India could win, but England didn't agree; Alastair Cook and Haseeb Hameed put on 180 for the first wicket, and they declared to set India 310 in a minimum of 49 overs. With winning out of the question, India endured a genuine wobble, losing four wickets in 23.4 overs, before Kohli - with first Ashwin and then Jadeja for company - batted them to safety with an unbeaten 49.

v England, Mohali
England won their second toss of the series, and failed to capitalise, folding for 283 after a succession of careless shots. India, though, weren't about to make it easy for themselves. They were going along swimmingly at 148 for 2, and Pujara had just reached another half-century when he pulled
Adil Rashid straight to deep midwicket. That led soon to 156 for 5 and then 204 for 6, and it looked to be anyone's game. But not for the first or last time in the season, India's lower order made match-turning contributions - Ashwin scored 72, Jadeja a career-best 90, and Jayant Yadav 55 - to give them a 134-run first-innings lead. From then on, England had no chance.

Ashwin and Jadeja sewed together partnerships with both bat and ball © AFP

4th Test v England, Mumbai
Once again England won the toss, and this time, they put up a substantial first-innings total, 400, thanks to a century on debut from the opener Keaton Jennings and fifties from Moeen Ali and Jos Buttler. India's top order, yet again, responded magnificently. Vijay put on century stands with Pujara and then Kohli, and when he was dismissed on the third morning for 136, India were 262 for 3. That, however, quickly became 307 for 6 and then 364 for 7. With the pitch showing signs of breaking up, England might have imagined they would hold the upper hand if they could take the last three wickets quickly.

As if. Kohli was still in the middle, and he powered on to his third double-ton in successive Test series, and Jayant made a maiden hundred at the other end as the eighth-wicket pair added 241. India were eventually bowled out with a lead of 231, and that was more than enough for their spinners, led by Ashwin, to wrap up an innings win.

5th Test v England, Chennai
Another toss won, another 400-plus total. This time England made 477, led by a century from Moeen and half-centuries from Root, Liam Dawson and Rashid. India's response this time began with a 152-run opening stand between Rahul and Parthiv Patel, before the wickets of Parthiv, Pujara and Kohli left them 211 for 3. Rahane was out injured, and the man who had taken his place, Karun Nair, had only scored 4 and 13 in his two Test innings before this.

This time he would make a slightly bigger contribution. He added 161 with Rahul, who fell one short of a double-hundred, for the fourth wicket, and then simply went on and on. With Ashwin and Jadeja for company, Nair converted his maiden ton into a double, and then, with a flurry of sweeps, cuts and pulls against the spinners, a triple. India declared on 759 for 7, their biggest total ever. With just over a day left on a flat Chepauk pitch, it looked like England could get away with a draw to end their tour, but Ravindra Jadeja had other ideas - his 7 for 48 sent them crashing to defeat by an innings and 75 runs.

Thanks for coming: Karun Nair's innings flattened the visitors in the final Test © AFP

2nd Test v Australia, Bengaluru
India crashed to an unexpected defeat in the first Test, tumbling to 105 and 107 against Steve O'Keefe's left-arm spin on a square turner in Pune. When they were bowled out for 189 on the first day of the second Test, it looked as if the Border-Gavaskar Trophy might slip out of their grasp even before the halfway point of the series.

Then came a rousing, slow-burning fightback. India's four bowlers bowled with heart and discipline to take six wickets and only concede 197 on the second day, and Jadeja ran through the lower order on the third morning to restrict Australia's lead to 87. It was still a substantial lead on a pitch with decidedly unpredictable bounce, but half-centuries from Rahul, Pujara and Rahane - the latter two combining to produce the first wicketless session of the series - helped India erase it and set Australia 188. With Ashwin bagging a six-wicket haul and Umesh Yadav exploiting the low bounce to pick up key middle-order wickets, India wrapped up a thrilling 75-run win.

3rd Test v Australia, Ranchi
Winning the toss on a pitch that, belying its appearance, turned out to be slow and flat, Australia posted 451 thanks to centuries from Steven Smith and Glenn Maxwell. It might have been a bigger total if not for Umesh's reverse swing and Jadeja's relentless accuracy, but 451 was still 451. Australia's bowling attack, moreover, had two clever and accurate spinners, a tall fast bowler who would keep probing away in the fourth-stump channel, and another tall fast bowler who was quick, hostile, and capable of extracting bounce from the deadest surface. They would test India far more than England's bowlers had while defending similar totals in Mumbai and Chennai.

Australia's bowlers never let up on their discipline, and India had to work for every run. Vijay and Rahul added 91, and Vijay and Pujara 102, but each of Vijay, Kohli and Rahane were out playing attacking shots, before Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins prised out Nair and Ashwin with reverse swing and bounce. India were 328 for 6, still 123 behind, but still at the crease was Pujara, his defensive game refusing to show any cracks despite all that was going on around him. He was joined by Saha, and the two added 199, ensuring India could not lose the Test, and giving them a serious shot at victory. India declared with a lead of 152, took two wickets late on day four, and two more in the first session of day five, but Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh, spending 62.1 overs at the crease, ensured Australia would go into the final Test with the series level 1-1.

India spent much of the Ranchi Test appealing to get Shaun Marsh out © Associated Press

4th Test v Australia, Dharamsala
On a bouncy pitch that reminded them of home, Australia batted first and moved to 144 for 1. Smith continued in his otherworldly vein of form, and David Warner got among the runs for the first time in the series. India were without Kohli, their captain and most experienced batsman, and had replaced him with an extra bowler, a debutant left-arm wristspinner. That man, Kuldeep Yadav, turned the match, taking four wickets as Australia slumped to 300 all out.

This was still an Australian-style pitch, though, and their bowlers kept chipping away despite fifties from Rahul and Pujara. Lyon, extracting alarming bounce, threatened to run through India, leaving them at an uncertain 248 for 6 at the end of day two. Yet again, though, India's lower order would make a telling difference: Saha and Jadeja added 96 to give them a 32-run lead.

India would never relinquish their hold over the match thereafter. Umesh, bowling scarily fast, took three wickets, including those of both openers, as Australia collapsed to 137 all out. It left India a target of 106 to claim the hardest-fought series win of their season.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jacob on April 2, 2017, 1:46 GMT

    India is one of the better test teams, especially at home. That's all we can can infer - nothing more, nothing less. Like ALL other test teams, India is susceptible to high quality pace, swing and, surprise - spin!

    Need a couple of accurate fast bowler to win a series in SA, Australia, NZ and England. The current crop is good but would have to find ways to sustain top speeds (140+ kph is good enough), and putting the ball in the right 'corridor' without frequently serving 'hit me' balls. An out-n-out fast bowler like Bret Lee may help too to 'shake things' up when things are not going according to plan. Batting seems to be good with respectable support from lower order. And catching, especially at the slips, needs to improve considerably.

    As things stand, India will find it difficult to win a series in Aus, England, SA and NZ although they can find themselves win an odd test or draw a series as they have done several times recently. Difficult, but not impossible.

  • sam on April 1, 2017, 16:24 GMT

    @Izzidole (As probably one of the most ardent fans of Indian Test Team (remember result of every test series India has played in last 25 years) to the extent that every time India lost a test match it was a bad day for me) I must tell you that India may be slightly better than other teams (or on equal level with SA, Aus) but it is far from being a superpower in test cricket. To be a superpower India needs to win a test series in both Aus and SA. Only then can we call India a cricketing superpower. India can do it based on their and opposition's current talent but it is going to be extremely difficult. They are certainly underdogs to win test series in SA and Aus in the next couple of years.

  • Jose on April 1, 2017, 16:13 GMT

    In my very very long watch of Indian cricket in general & test cricket in particular, this series of series was the VERY BEST, I had ever seen from our boys. We often use the term, "Team Effort" so glibly. If there was one ever,-- yes; this is it; no doubt in my mind.

    I stand up & salute our wonderful boys, who achieved it with resolute efforts, every inch.

    Keep it up! Try your best, & spread the same winning message, when you step out of our shores, to wage newer cricketing battles in all "their" battlefields.

    Whatever may turn out to be the future outcome (I'm no oracle) I am sure that you boys will fight it out every over, every session, every day, every test, and in every country.

    Wishing you Godspeed. It will be there if you do you part well.

    In my mother tongue, there is a saying:

    "YOU DO ONE HALF WELL: GOD WILL DO THE OTHER HALF"!

  • Jose on April 1, 2017, 15:57 GMT

    @IZZIDOLE

    I feel many of you may be a bit harsh on your cricket.

    I see some parallels between economies & cricket fortunes.

    .

    In economies peaks & troughs which happen WITHIN A YEAR, we call SEASONAL. And similar ups & downs OVER MANY YEARS, we dub as CYCLICAL.

    .

    What happened from Hobart to Pune was a true case of seasonal climb & this series is close!

    Let's go back:

    From the depths of desperation of the 80's (cyclical trough) to Aus stepping towards world domination under Taylor & Waugh (cyclical peak).

    These cycles WILL keep happening, by the very nature of human endeavors - which can never be perfect.

    .

    By the time you hit the nadir in Hobart, it was yet another fall & another trough, like in the 80's. Thank yourself, it is not going to be that long trough this time, with the new policies for inducting young blood.. Despite the series results, I do think, this is the start of another climb, if you pick the right boys for the right slots, with no fear or favour.

  • Jose on April 1, 2017, 14:53 GMT

    Many of us might have fallen in love, even multiple times, before we found our soulmate and married her. For me, those loves were perhaps like these multiple test matches, in this long home season. With lots of up and downs; mostly winning & moving on, seeking fresh tests to win over! {};-)

    Of all the loves, the one which may still linger on in our memories, is the one where we had to overcome all the resistance and hurdles your love and others might have put on our path.

    Well! This test season of ours reminds me about that too. Rather pleasantly!

    For a test cricket lover, and an Indian to boot, for me, this 13 home-tests saga was almost like those "good old days"!

  • Izmi on April 1, 2017, 11:09 GMT

    While the quality and standard of Australian cricket has deteriorated in recent years India has taken over the mantle as the super power of world cricket by defeating South Africa, England, New Zealand, Bangladesh and Australia and is ranked by ICC as the number 1 test team in the world. Unlike in the past Australian cricket has been plagued by indiscipline, favouritism, unnecessary job appointments, money etc. which has had a detrimental affect on the sport in the country. If Australia hopes to win back their status once again as the super power of world cricket they would need to clean up the current mess and appoint cricketers who have excelled in the sport in the recent past. Australia has a wealth of talented cricketers who have represented the country whose knowledge and experience can be utilised for the benefit of Australian cricket. I reckon Australia should take a leaf from the BCCI. The tide has now changed .

  • dev3652605411 on April 1, 2017, 10:44 GMT

    Yes, they did very well. But its not like yesteryear with all the big scores by the top order. The bottom half did a lot of the scrappy work. Is this good? I don't think so. With Shreyas Iyer in middle , team will be better for away series. Anyway hope the scrappy fightbacks will stay on in away series too. India needs a bank of 10 pace bowlers really. yes. And they should be able to get the early wickets . Most times the opposition got good first innings scores before the spinners caught up. Pacers need to bowl like Umesh who bowled very well for his 3 wickets in last test. Good writing by Karthik

  • darkse3265494 on April 1, 2017, 10:40 GMT

    i don't get how aussies can call sl as rubbish and not count india's away wins against them.aus lost 3-0 to sl away and still they call sl a bad team.yes sl may not be that good now but every team except windies and zim have been winning in their home and so india does deserve the credit for that.it's the same as aus winning in nz.and to the sa fans glorifying their away record,stellar home records with decent away records make a great team.away wins cannot be used as an excuse to cover home losses

  • Iman on April 1, 2017, 9:08 GMT

    From Sri Lanka series, to the West Indies, then to the home season. The number of times Ashwin Saha and Jadeja fought back with the bat is unbelievable. Just look at each and every fight back story, they feature in almost all of them. When the chips were down, they rescued India many times. This fabulous season would not have been possible without the batting exploits of Saha Ashwin Jadeja. And to add to that, Ashwin and Jadeja with the ball, and Saha with gloves have been a revelation. Good going guys, keep up the good work.

  • Kuka on April 1, 2017, 8:56 GMT

    What needs to happen, we should have more bouncy wickets like Dharamshala, Good idea would ne to build new stadiums in North Eastern Part of India. Have more players from South Africa, Newzealand, West Indies in IPL. Don't call player's from Australia, sledging is not professionalism. It has to stop.

    Lift physical fitness of player's as they are plagued by the injuries. More sport physical or bio-mechanics facilities in India. Also technological investment in broadcasting. Quality of broadcasting is still not upto the world standards. Look st Super bowl in USA who crystal clear is the broadcasting.

  • No featured comments at the moment.