As of now, two depressingly one-sided tours are underway: Pakistan’s tour of Australia, and Sri Lanka’s tour of South Africa. Both the Asian teams are, not surprisingly, being pounded into submission in test cricket. They could just be slightly more competitive in the limited-overs phase of the tour, but that seems like decades away. It has been a fairly boring beginning to the year, but let’s hope this is just the rusty prelude to the main act. There is unfortunately no World Cup of any sort this year, but there are, however, other attractions:
AUSTRALIA’S TOUR OF INDIA (FEBRUARY 23 – MARCH 29)
Four Tests between the top two-ranked nations in cricket. India’s long home season continues after they blanked out New Zealand and England, with the last of the holy trifecta pending. A month ago, this Australian Test team was in shambles against the South Africans after two Tests at home. Since then, miraculously, by integrating some young hungry souls into their line-up, they have managed to turn things around, winning three Tests on the trot, albeit two against a clueless Pakistani side. Their confidence is temporarily back, but many expect it to last only till they land in India – after which they will be haunted by memories of their last three tours here. They were blanked 4-0 in 2013, and have probably lost more matches in India than in any other country over the last twenty years. The one tour they won in 2004 was their “final frontier,” at the peak of their powers, making them only one of two foreign teams to conquer this soil in two decades (the other one was England in 2012). But Virat Kohli’s India is a different animal altogether.
SOUTH AFRICA’S TOUR OF NEW ZEALAND (March 8 – March 29)
Almost simultaneously, a rejuvenated South African Test team will tour the up-and-down New Zealand for three Tests in March. Kane Williamson has had a tough time adjusting as leader of a new-ish, young side, and after enduring a adult-making tour of India, he will hope that captaincy doesn’t steal the sheen off his batting anymore. He is still one of the best in the world, and is making up for lost form against Bangladesh as we speak. But he will be up against a South African team that has been on a tear lately, with AB de Villiers expected to be back too, led by Faf du Plessis and the revolutionary batting form of Quinton de Kock down the order. South Africa has been the best ‘overseas’ cricketing nation in the world for more than a decade, with their 2015 tour of India being their only depressing blip in an otherwise solid CV.
ICC CHAMPIONS TROPHY, 2017
It’s back! After India defeated hosts England in to win it in 2013, signaling a rise and return for a wounded and regrouping young Indian side (remember Shikhar Dhawan?), the 8-nation tournament is back in England after four years. This time, for the first time ever, there will be no West Indies – who didn’t make the cut after being ranked too low because of their performances in ODIs over the last two years. Bangladesh is an automatic selection, given their impressive 2015. India’s first match will be against, you guessed it, Pakistan in Birmingham (mini-India) on June 4th. The other two teams in their group are Sri Lanka and South Africa.
FAVORITES: India, England
SOUTH AFRICA’S TOUR OF ENGLAND (July 6 – August 8)
Immediately after, South Africa will continue their long tour of England, which they began even before the Champion’s trophy with three ODIs of their own. This time, it will be four Tests for the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy – which now lies in the hands of England after they defeated South Africa in South Africa 2-1 in the first month of 2016. This was South Africa’s darkest phase in Test cricket, where they lost to India and England consecutively, losing all the Test aura they had built for years. But this series will be different, given that England will not have played a Test match till this series – after losing 4-0 to India. Will Alastair Cook still be the captain? Let’s wait and watch.
THE ASHES (November 23 – January 8)
The Ashes returns to Australia this year, with the Smith-led team desperate to win back the trophy after losing 3-2 in England in 2015. They will be favorites at home, but one expects that by then England will have a somewhat different team and setup, with it entirely possible that Joe Root will captain the English team on his first full test tour. By then, the English Test team’s mental fortitude will have been made or broken by South Africa’s visit, and a lot will depend on how they do in that series. But the Ashes will test and stretch them to their limits, with Australia seemingly the more settled young side. One thing is for sure: these two teams deal solely in results, not in boring stalemate draws.