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From Gabba to Centurion: Remembering the Highs for Indian Men's Cricket in 2021

India started the year with a Test series win in Australia and lead SA at the end of 2021.

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2021 has been quite the exciting year for the Indian men’s cricket team. It’s seen some great highs while there have been some difficult times to get through as well. Landmark wins, rewriting the history books, defeat to arch-rivals Pakistan, change of guard – the year’s seen everything with the men’s cricket team.

The year has been immensely successful in terms of Test cricket for the Virat Kohli led side as they completed a historic and gripping turn around in Australia and schooled England, in India and away as well, before rounding up the year with a first in South Africa as well.

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While that happened in the longer format, the shorter format saw India’s bench strength makes their presence felt as they toured Sri Lanka and put in a fine performance. However, the 2021 T20 World Cup will remain as the sore moment for the Indian cricket fraternity, as they were knocked out before the semi-finals.

Here’s a look back at the highs for the Indian men’s cricket team in 2021.

Sydney and Gabba – India Dig Deep against Australia

A couple of performances that no Indian cricket fan will forget – grit and determination helping stay alive in the series in Sydney, before more of the same along with a side of flamboyance meant another Test series win in Australia. And of course, the fortress that is the Gabba was breached – it would become a theme for the year.

On Day 4, in Sydney, India needed 407 runs to win the Test and edge ahead in the series. Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rishabh Pant endured body blows aplenty, all getting fifties, but the visitors were in a spot of bother on the final day. With the score at 280/5, Hanuma Vihari and R Ashwin had a session to play against the likes of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, all of whom were breathing fire.

Ashwin and Vihari, batted through injuries, the spinner almost unable to stand straight, and put their body on the line, staying put for 258 deliveries. Australia found no way through their resilience as Ashwin and Vihari pulled off a great escape as the two batters walked off with a bruised body while the hosts were not amused about the shift which went in vain.

India started the year with a Test series win in Australia and lead SA at the end of 2021.

Ashwin and Vihari after pulling off a draw in Sydney 

(Photo: PTI)
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Up next was the Gabba, and India, injured, bruised and battered, had to dig deep. India fielded a bowling attack of Mohammed Siraj, T Natarajan, Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur and all-rounder Washington Sundar as injuries to the frontline bowlers had kept them out of action. Australia took a first innings lead posted a stiff target for the Indians, confident they’d do the business in the fourth innings in their fortress.

However, Shubman Gill, who made his debut on the tour, played a brilliant knock of 91, entertaining one and all with some elegant strokes and Cheteshwar Pujara did what he does best, yet again. A small-ish collapse put the pressure back on India, before Rishabh Pant stormed the Gabba with Washington Sundar holding out at one end.

Pant’s drive off Hazlewood to finish off the series has become one of the most iconic moments in Indian Test history and deservingly so. It was a turn around no one expected but a calm as cucumber approach from Pant rewrote the history books. The wicketkeeper-batter forged three fifty-plus stands during his unbeaten 89, for which he was adjudged the Player of the Match, while taking on a world-class attack at a venue where the hosts hadn’t lost in more than 30 years.

India started the year with a Test series win in Australia and lead SA at the end of 2021.
Indian players pose with the winning trophy after defeating Australia by three wickets on the final day of the fourth cricket test match at the Gabba, Brisbane, Australia.
Photo: PTI
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Axar Patel Makes His Bow as India Thrash England

Axar had to wait for more than 5 years after his ODI debut to make it to the Test side, and had to wait a game too as a knee injury came in the way. India were their usual dominant self in their own backyard and Axar tormented the English batters.

Mind you, India lost the first Test of the series and then Axar took over. He took a five-for on debut in the second innings, as India romped home and levelled the series. His nagging lines and lengths proved too difficult for a weak English line up, who collapsed like a pack of cards.

India started the year with a Test series win in Australia and lead SA at the end of 2021.

Axar Patel celebrates Joe Root's dismissal. 

Image: PTI

Axar had a fantastic partner to bowl with in R Ashwin and they spun a web around the English, picking 59 wickets together in the series. The left arm spinner had 27 and played one less game than Ashwin in the four-match series, picking three more five-wicket hauls. India won the series quite comfortably at 3-1.

England and India would meet again soon for yet another riveting series, but the nightmares would continue for the English.

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India Visit England in An Eventful Summer

The English were reeling from the Euros, and cricket was just about resuming again after the COVID-19 induced halt during the IPL. India had lost the World Test Championship final against New Zealand and Kohli and co were hurting.

A statement performance was due and what better a stage than the spiritual Home of Cricket – Lord’s – India put on a masterclass in London as England were demolished. By 151 runs.

KL Rahul scored a century before Joe Root responded with one of his own. Then Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara kept England at bay, setting it up for Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma.

The pace attack, very potent and one that Indian cricket fans have only dreamt of in yesteryears, had the host batters in all sorts of trouble. Only three made it to double figures and there were four ducks in the England second innings as the pace attack blew away the batting, helping script a memorable win.

India started the year with a Test series win in Australia and lead SA at the end of 2021.

Jasprit Bumrah celebrates the wicket of Haseeb Hameed.

Image: PTI 

The English bowlers returned the favour in Leeds with an innings defeat before the players returned to London, a city India were starting to love a little more. Kohli and co trailed by 99 runs at the half way stage at the Oval before Rohit Sharma put on masterclass, scoring a century with Pujara, Shardul and Pant chipping in with fifties as well. India set England a stiff target and before the pacers showed that they had made a habit of turning on the style. India won by 157 runs as the bowlers had everyone singing praises. A collective and ruthless team effort meant India could not lose the series in England.

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Second String India Win ODI Series in SL

While the Test team were in England, a team coached by Rahul Dravid and captained by Shikhar Dhawan toured Sri Lanka, dealt with COVID-19 as well and won the ODI series with Deepak Chahar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar taking charge.

After a comfortable start to the series, Sri Lanka put India under pressure in the second ODI, posting 275 and reducing the visitors to 193/7 with a little under 15 overs to go. Bhuvi had already picked 3 wickets and had Chahar for company. Suryakumar Yadav had scored a fifty but the rest had failed to rally around and India were in a spot of bother.

India started the year with a Test series win in Australia and lead SA at the end of 2021.

Deepak Chahar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar in Sri Lanka

Image: PTI

Chahar hit seven boundaries and a six in his knock of 69 as Bhuvi held up one end and India eked out an improbable win. Yuzvendra Chahal also picked three wickets in that ODI as his form started to return as well. After this he’d go on to have a fine IPL, but it wasn’t enough to get the nod for the T20 World Cup.

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Rahul Dravid Begins Tenure With Commanding Wins

After the disappointment of the T20 World Cup, India saw a change of guard in terms of the coaching staff as Rahul Dravid took over from Ravi Shastri. India’s T20 captain also changed and Rohit Sharma was given the job after Virat Kohli. And first up for the new leaders was New Zealand, who had just played the final of the World Cup against Australia and lost.

In Jaipur, Ranchi and Kolkata, a new look India batted with freedom as the likes of Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav, KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma came to the party. Rohit got two fifties and a 48 to start off his stint as captain while the others chipped in with meaty contributions whenever required.

The new look bowling, with many seniors rested, were also in fine form with Ashwin, Axar, Bhuvi, Harshal Patel and Deepak Chahar picking big wickets at regular intervals. India won all three T20s handsomely against the Kiwis to begin the new era in style.

India started the year with a Test series win in Australia and lead SA at the end of 2021.

This was Rahul Dravid's first series win after being appointed India Coach.

(Photo: BCCI)

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Shreyas Iyer’s Debut

After the T20s, the New Zealand side, World Champions in Tests, had two five-day games to play on their tour of India. First up would be Kanpur and a much-awaited Test debut for Shreyas Iyer, who has been scoring bagfuls of runs in domestic cricket.

Iyer, an established white-ball cricketer for India, opened his books with a century on his first day at work even as NZ’s pacers Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson were making life tough. He dug India out of a hole in the first innings and repeated the act with a 65 in the second as those around him failed to get going.

He joined an elite cricketers club with a century on Test debut, making the selection dilemma for the India a happy one as well.

India started the year with a Test series win in Australia and lead SA at the end of 2021.

Shreyas Iyer scored 65 in the 2nd innings. 

Image: BCCI

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Centurion Test – Another Fortress Stormed

After the New Zealand series, the new COVID-19 variant Omicron threatened the South Africa tour, but it started a week later than was initially planned with the Boxing Day Test being the first thing on the agenda.

India had never won at Centurion and the Kohli led side were eager to change that. Despite being dealt a body blow with the injury to Rohit Sharma and also Ravindra Jadeja, vice-captain KL Rahul said India were better prepared than their last tour.

And sure enough, Rahul kept up his end of the deal with a superb century in the first innings, showing that he could adapt to different formats very quickly. It was his seventh century, of which only one has come in India. A day rained out after that meant time was at a premium and on Day 3, India’s bowlers led by Mohammed Shami, who picked a five-wicket haul, engineered a South African collapse as the visitors took a 130-run lead.

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Shami, Siraj and Bumrah were impeccable as was Shardul, striking telling blows, leaving the hosts tottering. India added 174 more runs to the lead asking SA to chase an improbable 305. And like it had been the case in London earlier in the year, the pacers took charge and delivered brilliance at the drop of a hat, again.

Dean Elgar resisted for a bit but Bumrah, Shami and Siraj were having none of it on the final morning – making merry while the sun shone brightly on the last day of Test cricket in 2021. The pacers picked 8 wickets amongst themselves to roll over SA for 191 and win by 113 runs at Centurion for the first time.

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