Indian cricket's memorable triumph and colossal disappointment
For a country obsessed with cricket, the year was all about an unforgettable triumph. And a humiliating defeat.
Team India kept entertaining its many fans by playing throughout the year. However, the excess had started taking its toll towards the end of the year with empty stands being the noticeable feature in many matches.
The biggest high was palpably India's win over Sri Lanka in the final of the ICC World Cup at the Wankhede stadium in April. The triumph marked the end of a long, and seemingly endless, wait.
It was Team India's second world title, coming 28 years after Kapil Dev had led his team to that famous, albeit unexpected, win in England, and exorcised the ghosts of the Caribbean debacle in 2007.
It also made up for the disappointment of having come up second best to the all-conquering Australian side in the 2003 final.
Second half of the year was a disappointment
MS Dhoni, the man who had led India to the inaugural World T20 title in 2007, was the hero again, promoting himself up the order and ensuring his team home.
However, while the first half of the year was all about the world title, there was a major disappointment in store for Team India in the second half.
In a much-hyped tour to England, Team India was thrashed 4-0.
It was India's first whitewash in 11 years, since a Sachin Tendulkar-led team lost 0-3 to Australia.
England 4-0 series win was also its first clean-sweep over India in 37 years, since winning 3-0 in the summer of 1974.
Team India's meek capitulation in the series was shocking, with the margin of defeat in each of the four Tests being huge. The visitors' tame surrender made what was a high-profile series, to begin with, a one-sided affair.
While the Indian bowlers paid the price for injury and overwork, it was an abject batting failure, the much-hyped line-up managed to total 300 just once in eight innings, that was more disappointing.
A good show in the home series' subsequently though ensured more highs than lows for the team.
A good beginning
The previous year (2010) had ended on a high note for Team India, with the team securing it's first ever Test victory in Kingsmead (Durban).
2011 began on a good note as well with Team India holding onto a draw in the third and final Test in Newlands (Cape Town). The result implied for the first time in its cricketing history the Indian team had managed to avoid defeat in a Test series in South Africa -- the series ended 1-1 with the hosts having won the opening match in Centurion.
In the following ODI series, South Africa edged out India 3-2 despite the visitors leading 2-1 at one stage. Nonetheless it was a successful series for Team India on many counts.
India went into the World Cup, which it was co-hosting, as the favourites.
A dream fulfilled
Going into the opening match of cricket's flagship tournament – against co-hosts Bangladesh at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium in Mirpur, there was a lot of pressure on India.
Bangladesh had played a crucial part in India's early exit from the previous edition and consequently, this opener had been labeled a 'revenge' fixture. Besides, it was the only match in the tournament that Team India was playing away from home.
All the hype though came to a zilch as Virender Sehwag took over, smashing a 140-ball 175. Virat Kohli also contributed with an unbeaten 100 as Team India piled up a mammoth 370-4. Thereafter, the result of the match was never in doubt.
Despite having got off to a spectacular start, Team India struggled in subsequent matches.
While their second match with England ended in a tie, the subsequent two matches had them securing not so convincing wins against minnows Ireland and the Netherlands. Then came a shattering defeat against South Africa in Nagpur.
Just when it seemed they weren't good enough to go all the way, Team India got its act together. A comprehensive win over West Indies in their final group match in Chennai was followed by a morale-boosting result.
In their quarter-final match in Motera (Ahmedabad), Team India upset defending champions Australia. The convincing nature of the win -- the hosts won with 14 balls to spare, established Team India as the firm favourites for the title.
The much hyped, and highly anticipated, semi-final against Pakistan was a damp squib, with Team India ending up comfortable winners and the stage was set for MS Dhoni's men to emulate Kapil's Devils.
An unbeaten 103 by Mahela Jayawardene helped Sri Lanka post a formidable 274-6 and Team India, despite a poor start -- they were 31 for two with both Virender Sehwag (0) and Sachin Tendulkar (18) back in the pavilion -- remain on track through useful contribution from Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni (91 not out).
The Indian captain eventually sealed the win, aptly with a six, ensuring a mass hysteria.
A long wait had come to an end and it was a moment to cherish.
Not so convincing in the Caribbean
The team albeit didn't get much time to relish the triumph, with the fourth edition of the Indian Premier League starting soon after.
Back-to-back tournaments, and the resulting fatigue, meant many senior players opted out of the tour of West Indies in June. Consequently the Indian performance was anything but convincing.
The ODI side, led by Suresh Raina, scraped home in the five-match series while the Test team scored a not-so-flattering 1-0 win in the three-match series.
It was the first series in charge for the new coach, Duncan Fletcher – Gary Kirtsen had stepped down soon after the World Cup – and the result not only ensured him a good start but also made him aware of the vagaries of his new assignment.
The mauling in England
If the World Cup triumph had been the zenith for this Indian team, the tour of England marked its nadir.
Billed as a series for the No.1 Test ranking, Team India landed on English soil as favourites, high on confidence and looking to emulate their series win of 2007.
The opening Test at Lord's was a special occasion. It was the 2,000th Test ever – being held at the venue that hosted the first (on July 21, 1884). Besides, it was the 100th Test between the two countries.
Zaheer Khan ensured Team India a bright start, picking up two early wickets. However, he soon left the ground with a pulled hamstring before rains ensured an early ens to the day's play.
The opening day albeit was a curtain raiser of things to come. Zaheer took no further part in the series and was the first of the many injury worries that the visitors were to face subsequently in the series.
A magnificent unbeaten double hundred by Kevin Pietersen (in the first innings) and a fighting 103 by Matt Prior in the second ensured England a comprehensive 196-run win, forcing Dhoni to 'whatever could go wrong did.'
However, worse was in store for Team India. Even as their injuries mounted so did the margin of their defeats. The visitors were thumped by 319 runs in the second Test in Nottingham and hammered by an innings and 242 runs in the third Test in Birmingham as the England not only clinched a comprehensive series win but also usurped the No.1 Test ranking.
To add insult to injury they mauled Team India by an innings and eight runs in the fourth and final Test at The Oval to complete the whitewash.
The visitors went on to lose the lone T20 game (in Manchester) and the following ODI series as well to return home empty-handed.
Heroes at home
With England touring India in less than a month's time (after the Champions League T20) for an ODI series, the home team had an immediate opportunity for revenge.
Expectedly they thrashed England 5-0 in the ODI series, and though they lost the lone T20 (in Kolkata), Team India had given ample proof of that fact that if England are a dominating force on home soil, so are they.
Team India welcomed the West Indies next. Though this was a low-key series, considering the nature of the opposition, all eyes were on Tendulkar's 100th hundred.
While India managed to secure comprehensive wins in both the Test (2-0) and ODI series (4-1), the Master Blaster couldn't get to the landmark, despite getting tantalizingly close (94) in the third and final Test at the Wankhede.
With the all-important tour of Australia coming up, the quintessential Indian fan, having enjoyed what has overall been a successful year for the national team, will be having twin-expectations from the upcoming series.
The first is obviously related to Tendulkar's impending milestone. The second, even if it may sound a bit far-fetched, is about Team India securing its maiden series win Down Under.