Border-Gavaskar Trophy, 2017: Report Card

Team India, the top-ranked Test team in the world, earned one of their great series victories in recent history – ironically, on home soil, where they’re rarely expected to be challenged. Under Ajinkya Rahane at Dharamsala, they finished off Australia on the fourth day, taking the extremely hard-fought series 2-1: a margin far more satisfying than the recent 3-0 and 4-0 wins they’ve been pulling off. With this, India finished perhaps their most successful home season of all time, winning 10 of their 13 Test matches, losing one and drawing two (one against England, one against Australia).

For some reason, 13-0 wouldn’t have sounded as sweet. Winning 10 proves that they’ve had to play some patient, gritty and responsible Test cricket, despite being prone to batting collapses and mystery pitches. With this series, and the regaining of the trophy, India now become only the third team after Australia and South Africa to hold the Test rubber simultaneously against all other nine Test-playing nations (South Africa, Australia, England, New Zealand, Pakistan, Bangladesh at home; West Indies, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe abroad). 

Every player has stood up at some point of time in this four-match series. They haven’t always been at full strength, which has put even more responsibility on the bench – who’ve come in and put their hands up immediately. Dharamsala proved that India could finally win on non-tailor-made pitches, on good pitches, on green tops, even losing tosses – if they put their heads down and apply themselves. 

The ratings for each player:

Murali Vijay (4/10)

Perhaps one of the few disappointments of India’s campaign, Vijay missed the Bangalore Test match because of a sore shoulder – where Abhinav Mukund replaced him with no success, albeit in a winning cause. He finished with just 113 runs in three Tests, at a poor average of 22. Except for a tough 82 (threw away a 100 for the taking by charging a spinner) in Ranchi on a slow pitch, Vijay failed to convert any of his starts – looking stable and sure right until he made a mistake or wafted outside off stump. For a batsman who supposedly knows his off stump very well, and for one who leaves the ball better than most, Vijay’s nicks to the slip cordon and keeper proved that his dips in concentration are often fatal – with no luck being afforded to him the way it was to his younger opening partner.

KL Rahul (8/10)

One of the revelations of this season, Rahul, who replaced Shikhar Dhawan long-term as India’s No. 1 Test opener, finished the series with six fifties in seven innings. That’s as consistent as it gets for a youngster whose consistency was his only problem while coming into the series. In fact, Rahul has done a U-turn on his presumed temperamental issues at the top; earlier, in his first few matches abroad, he’d score a century as soon as he crossed 10 (thrice in 10 innings), and now he is unable to get to a century after he crosses 50. His team perhaps prefers the latter, given that India has had an opening problem before the series. Rahul came into form only in the last few T20 matches against England after suffering through the ODI series, and has not looked back since then – converting his talent to the sort of runs only Gautam Gambhir used to get as consistently at his peak. Rahul finished on almost 400 runs, without a single century, second-highest amongst the Indians (after Cheteshwar Pujara), but with the highest average (65), despite being an opener. He is one of only three batsmen in the series to finish with a 50+ average for the series.

Cheteshwar Pujara (8/10)

Pujara’s double at Ranchi was perhaps the best innings of the series – where he ended up facing more balls than any other Indian ever in an innings. But it didn’t result in a victory, which remains Pujara’s only “shortcoming” in Test cricket – his strike rate, which was actually perfect for the tough situation at Ranchi, but not quite at Dharamsala. Yet, his brilliant partnership with Ajinkya Rahane at Bangalore helped set Australia a target of 188, enough to win them the match and level the series just when all looked to be lost. That was the turning point for India, and Pujara was at the heart of it again. He finished the home first-class season with maximum runs ever for an Indian batsman, and this series with a little over 400 runs, behind only Steve Smith in quantity. He finished with a duck, run out in an ugly manner – and he deserved a better finish, which is a line I suspect we will always be attributing to him through his low-key career.

Virat Kohli (3/10)

Kohli became the only top-order Indian player with two sub-15 average series (England 2014 and Australia 2017), suffering through this series with an average of nine over the three matches he played. It was against all expectations, after becoming the first player to score four double centuries in four consecutive Test series before this one. He was expected to lord Australia at home, but failed miserably – yet, he captained the team with distinction, leading and inspiring his young troops to aggressive cricket. They didn’t break down after the Pune Test, despite many injuries and a long season – thanks to Kohli’s “behavior,” quarrels, controversies and backing. His post-match words often made a big difference to the team in the dressing room, convincing them that they could be as ruthless and even tasteless as the Aussies if need be. At times, that is needed, and Kohli sparked it. Despite his batting failure, and not leading India in the final Test, he finished with nine test wins out of 12 for the season. 

Ajinkya Rahane (5/10)

Rahane didn’t have the best series with the bat, but demonstrated great instinct and reading of the game when he led India to a crucial win in the final Test to clinch the series. He finished with a paltry 198 runs, but with a stroke-filled T20-ish unbeaten 38 on the final day, making his team speed home in a potentially tricky chase of 105. That was a good way to make a statement after contributing just one fifty (though, in a crucial winning partnership in Bangalore), and he remains safe at No. 5 despite being enveloped by two batsmen completely out of form. Rahane’s catching remained solid, especially in the final test at crucial moments – at times when the tests were often in balance.

Karun Nair (2/10)

Back to earth after the heady highs of scoring a triple century in only his third Test against England, Nair was introduced to the tough vagaries of Test cricket after not playing in India’s loss at Pune. He was brought back into the team, but failed consistently despite a few good-looking 20s, and got out at junctions when his team needed him the most. Finishing with 54 runs at an average of 13 means that Rohit Sharma will most likely replace him when they travel to Sri Lanka later this season – after the limited-overs gap for the next four months. 

Wriddhiman Saha (7/10)

Saha proved that grit and pluck goes a long way in winning respect in the longest form. He finished with just one century (at Ranchi) and no fifties, but an average of 35 was well worth its weight in a bowling-friendly series where only five batsmen could finish with an average of 34 and above. He faced 401 balls for his 174 runs, playing time smartly and holding up one end in the lower order, often when he’d bat after R. Ashwin – who failed with the bat throughout the series except in the final test. Saha was good with the gloves, too, despite a few brain-fades and bad DRS decisions.

R. Ashwin (6/10)

For once, Ashwin looked mortal at home, and didn’t finish with the highest number of wickets in a series. Yet, he finished second, even when he was injured, tired and not close to his best for the last two matches. Even just one five-for resulted in a 21-wicket haul for the series, though India expected more from him with the bat (where he finished with a terrible average of just 8). His fielding was spotty too, but he squeezed every drop of mileage from his spinning fingers, bowling plenty of overs when needed, and looked back to his best in the second innings at Dharamsala after an off-colour Ranchi performance. But when he didn’t step up, it was his ‘spin twin’ and No. 1 Test bowler in cricket.

Ravindra Jadeja (9/10)

No. 1 in Tests, yes, and 25 wickets for the series, as well as 128 crucial runs with a couple of fifties. Man of the Match in the final Test, as well as Man of the Series – finishing off a golden season that saw him overtake Ashwin as India’s go-to spinner, as well as the most economical bowler out there. Jadeja’s 63 in the final Test after failing with the ball in the first innings was tremendous and timely, pulling India into a small lead and setting the stage, after almost blowing the Australians away single-handedly in Ranchi. Despite the Australians not giving their wickets to him on the final day at Ranchi, he came back superbly to cap off one of his team’s most successful seasons in Test history. Jadeja has come of age in every format now, and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Ashwin as the defining spinner of this generation. He finished with 71 wickets for the season and more than 500 runs (including six fifties) – becoming only the third all-rounder to do so (the double of 50+ wickets and 500+ runs) after Kapil Dev and Mitchell Johnson

Umesh Yadav (8/10)

Yadav’s fitness stood out after breaking down consistently over the last few years. He played 12 out of the 13 Tests this season, and all four against Australia, finishing with an astounding 17 wickets – eight more than the second seamer on the list (Josh Hazlewood), tearing open Australia’s upper order repeatedly with high pace, swing and accuracy. He was never as accurate, finally stepping up after the injury-prone departure of their No. 1 bowler Mohammad Shami. Yadav became the pacer M.S. Dhoni had once always dreamed of.

Kuldeep Yadav (7/10)

India’s only ever chinaman spinner showed great character on his debut, scalping four wickets on the first day of the final Test after Australia got off to a flyer. He destroyed the middle order post-lunch, and it was too late by the time they could read him in the second innings. He could just be the X-factor whenever India need an extra spinner, fifth bowler or replacement for the top two.

Ishant Sharma (5/10)

Unlucky” is his tag, but there has to be more to it. Just three wickets in the first three Tests meant that he was dropped for swing-bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar in Dharamsala, but that didn’t diminish his brief bursts of pace and bounce at Bangalore and Ranchi. He bowled well in spurts, as has been the story of his career – but didn’t take enough wickets again. And a bowler must, at some point, take wickets. His career average of 40 proves otherwise – with just one angle, bounce and pitches being his only devices. His height has helped, but he will forever be known as the Indian bowler “capable” of devastation – as he proved against Ricky Ponting in Australia; which is why Yadav had to be at the forefront of the pace revolution this season. 

Bhuvneshwar Kumar (4/10)

Played just the final Test, didn’t bowl well in the first innings, was a little unlucky in the second with dropped catches, but Kumar bowled well in tandem with Yadav to scare the Aussies into submission on the third day at Dharamsala. He got Steve Smith, the most important wicket of the day, changing the tide for good – but needs more pace to make a difference on such pitches.

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