Cricket review 2023: Australia's dominance, India's heartbreak and chaos in Pakistan

Pat Cummins's team dominated red and white-ball cricket, while the wait for another world title continued for India

Australia celebrate with the Cricket World Cup trophy after their victory against India at Narendra Modi Stadium on November 19, 2023. Getty Images
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Cricket in 2023 was in many ways reassuring. As the world around us evolved at breakneck speed, a return to the "routine" had its own charm.

We know Australia are a world-class team. Always were, and probably always will be. In 2023, the Aussies conquered cricket.

They started their victory march in the World Test Championship final against India in London, under the leadership of Pat Cummins – and that was not even the best part of the year for the team or captain.

In July, Australia put up the first major challenge to England’s "Bazball" cricket in Test matches, retaining the urn with a 2-2 draw. England’s new-found brand of all-attack cricket worked until they faced a quality side on non-flat pitches.

The Aussies were not done yet. The ODI World Cup in India was going to be a whole new set of challenges, as most teams had almost forgotten about the format, focusing on T20s, leagues and the T20 World Cup that comes about every two years.

The Aussies lost the ODI series in South Africa in the build-up to the World Cup after taking a 2-0 lead in the five-match series. They lost three matches on the bounce by over 100 runs. And Cummins was going to lead the team in the World Cup having captained the side in just four ODIs.

At the World Cup, Australia started poorly, losing the first two matches to India and South Africa.

They waited on opener Travis Head to recover from his hand injury, bringing him in halfway through the tournament. And what a masterstroke that was as Head smashed 109 off 67 balls against the Kiwis, almost straight off the nets with hardly any practice.

Australia kept finding players to bail them out from tight situations at the World Cup. Against Afghanistan in Mumbai, the team in green and gold were facing near certain defeat at 91-7 chasing 292. Then Glenn Maxwell happened, cramps and all. It was the most audacious innings in ODIs, smashing bowlers all around while barely able to move an inch. It was an innings that defined Australia’s year – the tougher the situation, the harder they fought.

It all came to a head in the final against India on what was a sub-par pitch in Ahmedabad. Cummins and Australia took a huge risk, bowling first against a batting line-up that was in the form of its life. To the shock of millions of Indians and the nearly 100,000 at the Narendra Modi Stadium, every Australian plan hit the target, the biggest one being captain Cummins getting Virat Kohli to chop one on right after he had reached fifty.

India stuttered to 240 and, despite a manic new ball spell from the hosts’ lethal pace attack, Head – the player Australia had waited half the tournament for – hit a match-winning century and gave the Aussies the 50-over title, to go with the Test crown.

As Cummins and Australia celebrated a year dripping with glory, India were left with nothing to show for their efforts, despite being the best all-format team by some distance.

They won 45 and lost just 16 matches all year across formats, a record twice as good as Australia. But among the 16 defeats were two that mattered the most – the WTC and the ODI World Cup finals.

Under Rohit Sharma, India showed how to play ODI cricket, packing the team with world-class players who could move seamlessly between red and white-ball cricket, unleashing total dominance for almost three months during the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka and World Cup in India.

At the home World Cup, India were unstoppable, winning 10 matches in a row with clinical precision and not letting the opposition come even near them either with bat or ball.

Captain Sharma attacked from the start, irrespective of the opposition and conditions. Virat Kohli held the innings together and the rest rallied around him. The bowlers were merciless. Mohammad Shami was a late addition to the playing XI and went on a wicket-taking spree that was scarcely believable. They just did not put a foot wrong.

And then India lost the final. How and why will remain incomprehensible for years to come; such a brilliant all-round team and still no world title for a decade.

At the opposite end of the excellence spectrum was England. They had turned their full attention to reinventing Test cricket under the leadership of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum. That meant white-ball cricket was almost forgotten, even though they were the reigning world champions in both formats.

So disjointed was England’s white-ball cricket, they had to request Stokes to "unretire" from ODIs and play at the World Cup. It did not work.

England sank further than any defending world champions had, going out of contention well before the group stage was over. For more than a month, England stumbled from one defeat to another, even losing badly to Afghanistan.

The embarrassment continued in the Caribbean, where England lost both the ODI and T20 series this month.

It is staggering to see a world-class cricket team lose its way for months on end with no respite in sight. If the five-match Test series in India starting in January does not go to plan, England will be forced to declare cricket emergency.

Just like Pakistan did by the end of a disastrous year. Before the start of the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka, Pakistan were riding high, boasting the most lethal white-ball attack in Shaheen Afridi, Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf. They were even ranked the No 1 ODI team. Then over two months, injuries and a harsh reality check in 50-over cricket saw Pakistan fall face down time and again.

By the time their World Cup campaign ended in another failed attempt to qualify for the knockouts, a whirlwind of change swept through Pakistan. Babar Azam stepped down as captain in all formats, their entire team management and set-up was changed, and Pakistan cricket was pushed back many levels.

So, in a way, we were back to regular cricket.

The IPL mini-auction happened and the most recent World Cup winners benefitted the most, as is the case every year, with Mitchell Starc and Cummins emerging as the most expensive players in the history of the tournament.

Closer to home, UAE cricket stood out on a couple of occasions. Firstly, the country’s premier female cricketer Mahika Gaur made her switch to England, having impressed with her pace and height. While it was a big loss for UAE cricket, it was a testament to the skill and opportunities here.

There was no World Cup cricket for the men’s team but the U19 side gave an excellent account of themselves, reaching the final of the Asia Cup at home.

So, the world moves on. There is a T20 World Cup in June. There will be more teams this time – 20 divided into four groups of five each. A Super 8 stage before the knockouts means less chance of any team having an extended poor run but still making it to the final.

Beyond that, cricket prepares to enter a new arena – the Olympics. It is one of the five disciplines included in the 2028 Los Angeles Games roster. It will be in T20 format – the clearest possible sign that 20-over cricket is going to run the game, be it franchise leagues or international matches.

There are plans for a mini-IPL during the winter months. The same set of franchises own multiple teams across different countries. No one knows if we will have another ODI multi-team world event. Full length Test series will certainly be restricted to a handful of teams who can afford it financially.

So enjoy this "routine" as long as you can.

Updated: December 26, 2023, 10:49 AM