2016 brought some new good, retained some old bad
In cricket, besides the jostle for No.1 among teams, there were administrative issues and a lot of politics behind the scenes
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How will you remember 2016? Last year, the cricketing world saw plenty of action on the field and off it. Virat Kohli and R. Ashwin ruled the roost within the boundary ropes, while typical administrative malaise continued to hold the sport back, both in India and on a global level. Here is a look at the highlights:
World T20 pickle
The 2016 ICC (International Cricket Council) World Twenty20 was one of the best tournaments this format has ever witnessed. But that praise is restricted to on-field action—West Indies once again stole the show in both men’s and women’s editions. The World Twenty20, as a rule, tends to stay at only three-four venues, but last year it went across venues and conditions.
Hosting in India meant an expansion of the tournament and this brought administrative problems, which were enhanced by the BCCI’s lethargy in getting the job done on time. There were ticketing issues, with the managing committee adamant that it didn’t need foreign fans, and general security issues that arise out of hosting Pakistan.
Shashank Manohar played the shrewdest administrative hand in 2016 as he set about restructuring international cricket to its pre-N. Srinivasan ways. As BCCI president, he lobbied for voting in changes to the ICC structure, creating the position of an independent chairman of the governing body.
He then quit the BCCI and was elected the first independent chairman, a keen move to undo the administrative and financial decisions taken under the “Big Three” (India, Australia, England) proposal previously.
But the tremors were felt most in India, where the BCCI positioned Anurag Thakur as Manohar’s replacement, even as they were embroiled in their own legal muddles.
The ICC’s biggest move was a proposal to restructure international cricket calendar. It envisaged a two-tier Test league, wherein the current teams (plus two more from associate nations) would be drawn into two halves on the basis of promotion/demotion.
These proposals were shelved at an ICC meet in September, in the face of opposition from India, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. The other six Test nations had voted for the two-tier league, but it wasn’t enough. International cricket continues to meander aimlessly in the wilderness of bilateral ties.
BCCI agrees to use DRS
The ICC was, however, able to achieve a pivotal breakthrough in relations with the BCCI. The Indian board finally budged from its stringent opposition of the Decision Review System (DRS).
There was a nod from Test skipper Virat Kohli and more than a nudge from coach Anil Kumble, the latter having visited Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which had tested the technology on offer. The Indian team was happy with the technology during the recent Test series against England—which they won 4-0.
Scrap for No.1
After South Africa lost to England at home last winter, India became the world No.1 ranked Test side in January. It started a merry-go-round for the top slot in ICC rankings that lasted nearly nine months.
Australia regained the top spot with victory in New Zealand, but then slipped up in Sri Lanka, losing by an astonishing 0-3 margin.
Elsewhere, Pakistan held England to a 2-2 draw at home in the summer and became No. 1. So, when India went to the West Indies and duly won the four-match series 2-0, they were back atop the table.
This flux was a result of mathematical calculations for the defined rankings’ period—from 2013 until now, with the first two years carrying half weightage.
India’s unbeaten record from 2015 onwards meant they were No.1 again, but the aim for Kohli’s side was to keep this ranking. They brushed aside New Zealand 3-0, and the English, who had previously won three successive Test series against India since 2011.
In June, the Supreme Court passed an order that the recommendations of the Lodha panel should be implemented in full. The BCCI stalled time and again on reshaping its administrative structure coming up with a couple of key objections.
The first was about the three-year cooling-off term that had been recommended for office-bearers. The second was the one-state-one-vote rule, which, the BCCI argued, went against its constitution as per The Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act, 1975.
It was a plank on which the BCCI had based a majority of its arguments in the court’s hearings. On different occasions, Thakur threatened India’s international commitments—both the New Zealand and England series were under threat at different junctures due to a lack of funds as the Lodha panel froze the BCCI’s bank accounts and stopped payments to state associations that didn’t follow its recommendations.
On 2 January, the apex court passed an order removing Thakur and BCCI secretary Ajay Shirke from their positions.
Kohli and Ashwin
India’s upswing in Test fortunes can be put down to two names.
Virat Kohli has been insatiable this year. He scored 1,215 runs in 12 Tests at 75.93, including three double hundreds. In 10 One Day Internationals, he had 739 runs at an average of 92.37, including three hundreds. In 15 T20Is, he scored 641 runs at a staggering 106.83, which also won him the man-of-the-tournament at the 2016 World T20.
Overall, across all formats, he scored 2,595 runs in 37 matches at 86.50, the highest for any batsman in international cricket in 2016.
To say Kohli is the best batsman in the world today wouldn’t be an exaggeration.
But he was outdone by his own teammate. Ashwin picked up 72 wickets from 12 Tests in 2016, one of only two bowlers (Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath being the other) more than 50 wickets this calendar year.
He has been able to segregate his all-round abilities, which showed in West Indies when he was asked to bat at No.6. He did it with aplomb, scoring two hundreds to go with his 17 wickets.
He followed in the footsteps of Kapil Dev, who scored 500-plus runs and took 50-plus wickets in a calendar year twice—in 1979 and 1983.
Ashwin won both the ICC Cricketer of the Year and ICC Test cricketer of the year.
Chetan Narula is the author of Skipper—A Definitive Account Of India’s Greatest Captains.
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