After following the Indian Cricket for close to 4 decades, one thing I can say with reasonable certainty: 2018 is going to be one of the most exciting and challenging years for Indian Test side.
Let's bring instant objectivity to the discussion. India is slated to play Test series in South Africa, England and Australia during the next 365 days, which would be a serious challenge for a team which is on a dream run these days.
Ever since Kohli took over the Indian Test captaincy in early 2015, he has been on an unprecedented winning spree in Test. The string of victories which started in 2015 during India’s tour to Sri Lanka continued all through 2016 and 2017. India decimated South Africa, New Zealand and England at home. Sri Lanka was defeated both at the home and away series. The India team attained top ranking in the ICC Test ranking as well.
But this does not complete the Kohli’s crusade for sure. Kohli cannot claim the undisputed supremacy as yet. Real challenging stuff is yet to come for team India, and 2018 is the year which will provide that.
With Pakistan and West Indies merely a shadow of their former glory, England, Australia and India are the only formidable Test sides. Since home Test series comes easily to India, the real challenge would be to play these three teams in their backyard. You can win a Test in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh but on green tracks in these three countries and with potent pace bowlers, the red ball becomes a different thing altogether to face.
History vindicates this. India has never won a Test series in Australia and in South Africa. India’s cricket ties with Australia and South Africa are respectively 70 and 25 years old. In England, India last won Test series in 2007 and was decimated in two Test series thereafter.
Look at the few of the past bashings in Australia: there was a 4-0 and 3-0 whitewash in 2011-12 and 1999-2000 respectively. In 1991-92, there was a 4-0 defeat in five Test series. In 2003-04, India had a good time in Australia as the four Test series drew at 1-1. India registered that iconic victory at Adelaide, and with little better luck India should have ended up a winner in the series. At Melbourne during Boxing Day Test in 2003, Sehwag scored a swashbuckling ton on the opening day but, thereafter, the team imploded and lost the match. At Sydney Tendulkar scored a mammoth 241. India could have clinched the Test and series but then Steve Waugh saved it for Australia in his farewell Test match.
In 2007-08, India defeated Australia in Perth but overall lost series which was mired in various controversies.
Last time, India visited Australia in 2014-15, they lost the four-Test series by 2-0.
In South Africa, India drew series in 2006-07 and 2010-11, but last time in 2013-14 lost by 1-0. Until 2006 Johannesburg Test, India had a total dismal show in South Africa and there was nothing to boast. At Johannesburg in 2006, Sreesanth produced one of the most spirited bowling performances and South Africa was bundled out for 84; India won the Test but failed to clinch series.
India has one more famous victory at Durban in 2010-11. Sreesanth was again at the thick of action as he removed top three South African batsmen in the second innings but India again failed to win series.
When India visited England in the summer of 2011 as newly crowned World Champion and number one Test side, England delivered the shocker to India in form of a 4-0 whitewash. Three years later in 2014, India drew the first blood by winning the second Test at Lords. Ishant Sharma created havoc with rising deliveries in the second innings. England, however, bounced back ferociously and won next three Test matches with immaculate ease. Viral Kohli failed miserably with the bat.
So history suggests, Kohli may be reveling in his accomplishments over the past 2-3 years but there is no space for complacency. The real challenge is nestled in 2018 and Kohli and Indian think-tank must be well aware of it.
In 2018, India though can hope for settling all those past bashings in South Africa, England and Australia essentially because of three reasons: a pool of genuinely quick and strike pace bowlers, in form batsmen, and spirited and aggressive captaincy of Kohli. Flamboyant Spinner Hardik Pandya brings further potency to the side.
By the end of 2018, we would really know that how strong this Indian Test side is. If India is sitting at the top of ICC Test ranking, then 2018 will provide the ultimate endorsement of it (or rebuttal).
Nonetheless, it would be roller coaster ride for a Cricket freak like me. Let’s put the seat belt and enjoy this.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL).