From Virat Kohli’s rise to Steve Smith’s ball-tampering scandal: A look at the ups and downs in cricket in 2018

New Delhi: International cricket saw many ups and downs in the year 2018 but this year it jumped from one controversy into another.

It is not just the on-field stories that has the fans intrigued, the off-field incidents are equally interesting on their part.

From Virat Kholi’s rise, to his ‘Leave India’ comment and Tim Paine spat, and from Mithali Raj-Ramesh Powar controversy to Steve Smith’s ball-tampering scandal, let’s take a look at how some incidents rocked the gentlemen’s game this year.

Ideal platform for India

Kohli let words like ‘law of averages’ and ‘bad patch’ remain confined to grammar books as he went on stacking up astounding numbers across formats with monotonic regularity.

However, for ‘Captain Kohli’, it took nearly 12 months and three tough tours to shed the tag of poor travellers against an under-strength Australia after losing to South Africa and England earlier during the year.

His contemporary Smith endured an all-time low after his involvement in the ball-tampering during a Test match against South Africa leading to a year-long ban alongside David Warner and Cameron Bancroft.

The cultural shift in Australia’s “win at all costs” policy allegedly propagated by the country’s cricket establishment saw the downfall of Smith and Warner, the two pillars of the Australian cricket team.

But it provided India with an ideal platform to win their first series Down Under in 70 years with the talismanic Kohli at the helm.

The ball-tampering scandal

Cameron Bancroft was caught by television cameras appearing to alter the condition of the ball in the third test of the South Africa-Australia series in Cape Town. He was later caught hiding the object and also lying to the on-field umpires when quizzed about it. Steve Smith later accepted he along with David Warner had plotted the entire ball tampering fiasco and the object used was sandpaper. The trio was slapped bans by CA.

Virat Kohli’s game

On the batting front, Virat Kohli scored 11 international hundreds (6 in ODIs and 5 in Tests) with 1,000 plus runs (1322 in Tests and 1,202 in ODIs) in the calender year.

The Indian captain was heads and shoulders above his peers which also impacted the team’s performance as they had three gruelling series in South Africa, England and Australia.

Whether it was the hard deck at Centurion or the seaming conditions of Birmingham, and Nottingham to the bouncy Perth, Kohli’s dazzling strokeplay was what kept the average fans hooked on to the game.

On a personal front, the tour of England and the 593 runs in the Test series reaffirmed his status as a modern day great, who shines the brightest despite the presence of equally talented players like Joe Root and Kane Williamson.

Jasprit Bumrah

It was also the year when India found a bowling x-factor in Test cricket in the young Jasprit Bumrah.

With nearly 50 wickets (45 after first innings at MCG) in his first Test season, Bumrah, with his unusually slingy action and searing pace from a seven-step run-up, has made the Indian pace attack the best in recent times.

Bumrah’s emergence as a potent Test match bowler is proof that quality can rise through the ranks irrespective of formats.

Other teams

While India will shift their focus towards limited overs cricket in 2019 with the World Cup in England, the Champions of the 1996 edition, Sri Lanka will be desperate to put their house in order after en masse corruption scandal rocked country’s cricket.

Pakistan maintained their reputation of being good one day, bad on the other and ugly when no one can even imagine.

England, on the other hand, made rapid strides in shorter formats during the year and will certainly be a contender to lift the World Cup with players like Root, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler in their ranks.

Test cricket, save marquee contests, failed to garner eyeballs despite Afghanistan along with Ireland entering the five-day arena. Day/Night Tests may become the order of the day in the next two years.

West Indies and Bangladesh showed sparks in shorter formats but their lack of interest in being competitive in the longest format is not exactly good news for the health of the game.

Predictably, the franchise based private leagues continued to gain momentum with custodians of the game mulling on even shorter formats (ECB’s proposed 100-ball league) taking into account the shrinking attention span of viewing public.

Retirements

One of the high profile retirements during the year was that of AB de Villiers while India’s very own Gautam Gambhir also decided to call time on his career.

The game also lost a colossus in batting great Ajit Wadekar, the man under whom India won maiden series in England and the West Indies in 1971. His contribution to the sport also included a stint as India’s coach.

Mithali Raj and Ramesh Powar fiasco

It was also the year when the Indian women’s cricket team attracted attention for all the wrong reasons with senior-most player Mithali Raj accusing coach Ramesh Powar and Supreme Court appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) member Diana Edulji of trying to finish her career after the World T20 ouster.

If the Virat Kohli-Anil Kumble rift headlined the year 2017, 2018 witnessed top women cricketers like Mithali, Harmanpreet Kaur and coaches washing their dirty linen in public with accusatory e-mails being exchanged and confidential coaches’ report being leaked.

The India batting great had scored two fifties in the build-up to the semis but she did not take kindly her removal from the team. India lost the game and upon arrival back home she accused the coach and the skipper of humiliating and plotting against her. The controversy took several twists and turns with Ramesh Powar defending his decision to drop Mithali Raj. Several former cricketers spoke in favour of Raj and blamed politics as the root cause of the whole fiasco.

The current administrative crisis with COA members Vinod Rai and Edulji being at loggerheads didn’t help the cause either.

#MeToo

BCCI CEO Rahul Johri being accused of sexual harassment during India’s #MeToo movement was another jolt for the organisation which is already facing a leadership crisis.

While Johri was exonerated by a three-member probe committee, the rift between Rai and Edulji came out in the open causing a lot of administrative instability.

However, the men’s cricket team remained insulated from the off-field antics as it geared up for the World Cup.

Dhoni

With the talismanic Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s career at crossroads following a continual loss of form, 2019 promises to be even more enticing amid speculation that it could well be the one when the much-admired former skipper hangs up his boots, bat and keeping gloves.

David Warner abusing Quinton de Kock

Former Australian Vice-Captain David Warner was caught abusing Quinton De Kock on the staircase of the Kingsmead Stadium in Durban during the first Test of the series. Television footage showed the left-handed batsman completely losing the plot and letting a tirade of expletives towards the South-African wicketkeeper. Warner later regretted his actions and claimed he was angered by the constant personal comments directed against him by the Proteas players particularly de Kock.

Kagiso Rabada Controversy

The South Africa-Australia Test series of 2018 was marred by player retorting to unruly behaviour and Kagiso Rabada from South Africa came in for plenty of criticism for his temperament. His sending off of David Warner saw the ICC booking him for a level one offence. He was also accused of deliberately shoulder barging Steve Smith which resulted in him being banned for two tests. Proteas spinner Paul Harris infuriated Indian fans when he asked why was Kagiso Rabada was banned when Virat Kohli got away with his on-field antics during the Indian team’s visit there a few months back.

Nagin Dance

In the last league game of the Nidahas Trophy, Bangladesh and Sri-Lanka played out a humdinger of a game which was embroiled in controversies. First, the constant introduction of 12th man by Bangladesh to transmit messages infuriated the opposition and when finally they won the game, the Bangla boys started with the now-infamous Cobra or Nagin dance. Their antics was seen as a deliberate attempt to disrespect the opposition team. In the very next game which Bangladesh lost to India courtesy some Dinesh Karthik heroics, the Sri-Lankan and Indian fans taunted the Bangla tigers with their own version of ‘Nagin’ dance.

Mohammad Shami-Hasin Jahan controversy

Indian pacer Mohammad Shami was accused of infidelity by his wife Hasin Jahan. With each passing day, the incident got murkier as Shami’s wife shared a number of photos and screenshots as proof of his adultery and also accused him of physical and mental harassment. She even approached the BCCI asking for the pacer to be banned while the media ran the story for several days on prime time.

Leave India comment

Indian skipper Virat Kohli was marred in a bitter controversy when he lashed out at a cricket fan for praising foreign cricketers. The star batsman asked the fan to leave the country if he thought highly of English and Australian batsman in comparison to the Indian players. The statement drew a sharp response from cricket fans on social media who trolled the cricketer for his comment. The controversy raged on several days till Virat himself addressed the situation and tried to deflect the topic.

Ishant Sharma Ravindra Jadeja spat

Indian cricketers Ravindra Jadeja and Ishant Sharma are known for their fiery temperament and it was evident once again when the two got into an ugly confrontation in the second test of the Australia India series. Footage released by Fox TV showed Jadeja and Ishant pointing fingers at each other while Ishant was also heard hurling abuses at his teammate. Ravindra Jadeja had been previously caught in a similar situation with Suresh Raina back in 2013. With Ishant Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja refusing to stop, Mohammad Shami stepped in to sort the matter between the two but not before they had made a mockery of themselves before the entire world.

Virat Kohli-Tim Paine

Virat Kohli and Tim Paine were having a constant go at each other during the recently concluded test match at Perth. The situation was so tense between the duo that they even almost chest bumped each other when Tim Paine was at a strike during Australia’s batting. Stump microphones also picked up Tim Paine sledging Indian batsman Murli Vijay while making references to his rival Virat Kohli. The heated battle continued right till the very end while there is divided opinion on who was the aggressor in the contest.

(With PTI inputs)