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The Big Stars Who Made This a Memorable Cricket Season for India

The Men in Blue won five out of the six series that they played in, across all formats.

Updated
Cricket
6 min read
Indian team poses with the trophy after winning the ODI series against England, at Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Pune, Sunday, March 28, 2021. 
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The silence has been broken by a roaring victory cheer as Team India staged a successful comeback to the international circuit in the post-lockdown era. Since the start of competitive cricket, the Men in Blue won five out of the six series that they played in, across all formats.

Despite battling injuries and living cocooned in a bio-bubble for months at a stretch and not having the crowd on most occasions to inspire them, Virat Kohli’s men (and Ajinkya Rahane’s for a bit) overcame all obstacles to give a glimpse of their mettle.

Overall, the side won 13 games, lost 8 and drew 1 across formats since November 2020, and we look at the top performers who helped India record what was an extremely memorable and satisfying phase.

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Rishabh Pant

He smashed the best bowlers by playing audacious shots. He smashed one-handed sixes and one-kneed fours for fun. Walking in at precarious situations and leaving with the team in control often became the norm. He batted with maturity, controlled his natural game till he could control no more and left the skipper, the coach, the team and the nation in awe (or shock!) almost every moment he was at the crease.

Pant, all of 23, has had an extremely arduous journey thus far. Chants of “Dhoni Dhoni” greeted him with every dropped catch, while Ravi Shastri publicly proclaimed that the Delhi player had to work hard on his game. A poor Indian Premier League last year saw Pant being dropped from the white-ball leg of the Australian series last year, a phase when he worked on his fitness and stamina.

His determination to come back stronger and his hunger were all too evident as he scored two game-changing fifties in Australia, which sealed a spot for Pant in the Indian leg of the season. He ended with a total of 801 runs in 14 games at an average of 53.40 and stamped his presence in the side with elan. His improved wicket-keeping, which even saw him move up to the stumps against the pacers in the third ODI, and his constant chirping to make up for the hush around truly made it his summer.

Shardul Thakur

Move over Sir Jadeja, it’s the season for Lord Thakur.

In a season where a new bunch of players rose up the ranks, Shardul Thakur carved his own niche. A partnership breaker, a reliable batter and a vastly improved bowler, Thakur slowly took over the bowling attack that was without its core members in the white-ball leg in the last few months. And when he was given a chance to play a Test in Brisbane, he grabbed it with both hands, scoring a match-winning 67 at The Gabba and returning with seven wickets, in what was his only his second Test match.

However, it was in the shorter formats that Thakur truly emerged as a force to be reckoned with. In five T20Is and three ODIs against England, the all-rounder picked up a total of 15 wickets, with three three-wicket hauls along with a four-fer in the last ODI on Sunday. The bowler Virat Kohli relied upon in pressure situations, Thakur ensured that the side did not miss the services of Jasprit Bumrah much as he bowled tight lines in any phase of the innings.

Moreover, Thakur’s batting, including his cheeky sixes, found its place in the Twitter world, where the player has an enviable following.

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Washington Sundar

The 21-year old, who has been affected by a spate of injuries in the last few seasons, lived a fairy tale since December. Picked as a net bowler for the Test series against Australia, the Tamil Nadu all-rounder would not have envisaged the dream that unfurled Down Under. After both Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja bit the injury bug, the team management handed Sundar his debut with an eye on his batting prowess.

In his first red-ball game since November 2017, Sundar batted and bowled like a pro, picking up a total of four wickets and scoring a crucial 62 when his team were looking down the barrel. His match-winning efforts helped him stake a claim for the Tests against England at home, where he scored a brilliant 96* on a tricky Ahmedabad wicket to play the role of a saviour yet again.

His no-look sweeps that went for a six, his courage against Josh Hazlewood and his ability to open the face of the bat while James Anderson was hurling down fire were worth its weight in gold, and would have made his father proud.

Sundar was also economical in the five-match T20Is against England, where he conceded 1 for 18, 2 for 29, 1 for 26, 1 for 52 and 0 for 13 to cap off what was a memorable season for him.

Ravichandran Ashwin

After winning yet another Man of the Series performance against England, Ravichandran Ashwin emphasised the importance of happiness and how it has played a huge role in the Tamil Nadu spinner’s career graph of late.

Stressing on the fact that he was enjoying his cricket post the lockdown era, Ashwin further elaborated on his meditative approach to cricket, which was in stark contrast to his humorous videos on his YouTube channel that were interspersed with cheeky one-liners.

The veteran was not swayed by numbers or his poor track record overseas as he ended the series against Australia with a total of 11 wickets in three games, to prove his effectiveness across conditions. Yet, what Ashwin will be remembered for will be his zen-like batting at the SCG, where he held fort with a bad back amid a cacophony of Australian voices for his unbeaten 39 that helped salvage a memorable draw.

Back home in familiar territory in India, the off-spinner made little work of the vulnerable English batting as he ended with 32 wickets in only eight innings. He picked up a minimum of three wickets every time he bowled and got five or more wickets on three occasions, to silence critics who made light of his records (on field and on social media as well!).

While his bowling returns were expected, it was his knock of 106 in the second Test at Chennai that helped him edge Rohit Sharma for the Man of the Series award.

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Rohit Sharma

One of the consistent performers of the season, Rohit Sharma had a huge role to play in both Australia and in the Tests against England that helped the team seal a spot in the finals of the World Test Championships. Walking into the XI over Mayank Agarwal in Sydney, with question marks over his technique in moving conditions, Rohit raised his game and made vital contributions in India’s series win Down Under.

Opening alongside newcomer Shubman Gill, Rohit took on the onus, played according to the situation and helped lay a solid foundation whenever he opened for Team India in Test cricket. He scored a counter-attacking 52 off 98 deliveries in the second innings at Sydney and followed it up with a pleasing 161 off 231 on a sticky wicket in Chennai. He was the man of the moment as he top scored in the Pink Ball Test and gave England a course on playing on turning tracks with an innings of 49 that came in 144 deliveries.

Though Rohit could amass only one half century in the three T20Is and three ODIs that he played, he gave his side quick starts, and reinforced why he is one of the best white-ball openers on the circuit.

Honorary Mentions - Hardik Pandya & Bhuvneshwar Kumar

Though the duo were not a regular across formats, and, hence, miss out from the main list, their contributions were pivotal over the course of the last few months. Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s return, in particular, will be extremely pleasing for fans who have seen the bowler in and out of the circuit due to a string of injuries for the last three years. In the absence of Shami and Bumrah, the onus was on Bhuvneshwar to lead a relatively inexperienced attack against a strong English camp, and he did not disappoint.

The pacer picked up a total of ten wickets across eight games, but what stood out was his economy rate. He conceded only 6.38 runs an over in the T20Is, but it was his numbers in the 50-overs that impressed. He gave away only 4.65 runs in the three ODIs, with no other bowler across both teams conceding less than 5.33 an over. Bhuvneshwar has returned with as many as four slower deliveries, and looks fitter than ever, and he could be a key component for India heading into the T20 World Cup later this year and the ODI World Cup in 2023.

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Hardik Pandya, who underwent a back surgery two years ago, displayed why he is the numero uno pace all-rounder in his limited chances this season. With the bat, Hardik was impressive as always, as he scored crucial runs lower down the order, including two nineties in the ODIs against Australia last year.

Overall, the Gujarat cricketer scored 474 runs in 14 white-ball games since India’s return to international cricket at a strike rate of 130.57, and played his part with the ball as well against England. His lines and his pace made it tough for the rivals to hit him out of the park, and he sent down a tight 49th over in the close third ODI on Sunday to further display his maturity.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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