It has been a big 12 months for India’s cricket side, with the defense of their World Cup title, the dawning of a new era under new Test captain Virat Kohli and finally a home series against the No. 1 ranked Test team in the world. In terms of how they fared, however, it was very much a mixed bag.
For India, 2015 began in trying circumstances when long-term captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni announced he was retiring from Test cricket. And things took a while to get better. Kohli took the reins but couldn’t prevent his team from ending their four-match Test series in Australia without a win.
Back under the charge of Dhoni, India’s one-day side then secured just a single win -- against minnows Afghanistan -- in five warm-up matches for the World Cup. As they prepared to defend the trophy they memorably won on home soil just four days earlier, hopes were not exactly high.
But India found their feet once the tournament got underway. Following a big win over fierce rivals Pakistan in what was reported to be the most-watched cricket match in history, India then triumphed even more resoundingly against one of the leading favorites, South Africa. Yet, despite recording a perfect record in their pool, the task of beating Australia in their own land would prove insurmountable and India were handily beaten by hosts and eventual champions in the semifinals.
The disappointment would take a while to shift. The low point of the whole year was to come in June when India’s ODI side lost their first ever series against Bangladesh. The defeat brought huge speculation over the future of Dhoni, with the 34-year-old even stating that he was willing to step down if it would help turn around the team’s fortunes.
That didn’t happen, and Dhoni remains at the helm, despite India’s only limited-overs series victory in 2015 coming when a much-changed squad -- missing Dhoni, Kohli and others -- triumphed in Zimbabwe. Dhoni’s disappointing year would come to an end with defeats on home soil to South Africa in both Twenty20 and ODI series, winning just two of seven combined matches.
Again the Board of Control for Cricket in India has come out to back Dhoni and insist that he will remain captain at least until the World Twenty20, taking place in India next March and April. Before that Dhoni will be desperately hoping to build some momentum. That may be difficult to find, however, given that India will be heading to Australia next month for five ODIs and three T20Is. Dhoni will have to turnaround what have historically been meager fortunes for India in Australia.
Their best hope may come from the confidence that has been built up by the recent achievements of Kohli’s Test side. Having won his first full series in charge in Sri Lanka, Kohli then led his team to an emphatic 3-0 demolition of South Africa.
Yet despite beating the top-ranked Test nation and moving his own team up to second in the ICC rankings, Kohli didn’t appear to derive a huge deal of pleasure from the victory. Instead he consistently hit out at what he saw as unfair criticism from the media and the ICC of the quality of pitches prepared during the series. While he may have had a point in alleging double standards at India being slated for providing spin-friendly conditions when all countries choose pitches that suit their strengths, it was perhaps a sign of his lack of experience as captain that he took the comments so much to heart.
And, rather than talking, the best way to silence the critics is on the pitch and specifically for India to enjoy some long overdue success away from the more familiar conditions of the Indian subcontinent. As well as lifting the World Twenty20 at home, that must be the primary objective for India in 2016.