World Test Championship: A look back at India’s journey to the final
As in the words of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, “The will must be stronger than the skill,” the Indian cricket team stayed true to themselves as they secured a 3-1 series win over England and sealed their place in the World Test Championship final in June.
Virat Kohli’s men have been the most dominant team in this Test championship, with his side registering 12 wins and four defeats from six Test series since August 2019, to finish atop the WTC table.
While Team India were in a comfortable position to be finalists, a disheartening 0-2 series loss in New Zealand derailed the momentum generated from seven straight wins and almost put their hopes in jeopardy. However, a miraculous victory against Australia - led by the stand-in captaincy of Ajinkya Rahane - got their campaign back on track.
In the cases of India’s Test series against Australia and England, former players like Ricky Ponting, Graeme Swann, and Kevin Pietersen predicted a series thrashing for the Ravi Shastri-coached side. But, given the turn of results, the Indian cricket team silenced the former players and cricket experts and maintained their steady growth as one of the major powers in red-ball cricket.
Here we revisit how India ventured their way into the World Test Championship final.
August 2019: West Indies 0 – India 2
India’s World Test Championship began with a trip to the Caribbean Islands for a two-game Test series against the West Indies.
From India’s point of view, the series was a contest of wits yet a relatively easy quest as they registered wins by 318 runs (a new record away win in terms of runs) and 257 runs to completely floor the West Indies in their yard.
Jasprit Bumrah became the first Asian to take five-wicket hauls in Australia, England, South Africa, and the West Indies; and Hanuma Vihari, who finished as the leading run-getter with 289 runs, ensured India made a 100 percent start to the World Test Championship campaign.
October 2019: India 3 – South Africa 0
Two months later, India faced their first serious test as they hosted South Africa for a three-game series.
Although they started as favorites, Virat Kohli’s men withstood a minor scare from the Proteas in the first Test to register a comprehensive 3-0 whitewash of Faf du Plessis’ unit.
Mayank Agarwal’s maiden Test double ton, Rohit Sharma’s twin centuries (176 and 127), and impressive spells from Ravichandran Ashwin (7/145) and Mohammed Shami (5/35) propelled India to a 203-run victory despite South Africa’s first innings score of 431.
The series later became a one-sided affair as Virat Kohli’s unbeaten 254 in the second Test and a double-century from Rohit (212) in the final Test helped India pick up another 120 points to maintain their 100 percent record.
November 2019: India 2 – Bangladesh 0
India hosted neighbors Bangladesh for their first-ever day-night Test, and right from the get go Virat Kohli and Co were favorites to win the two-game series.
Mayank Agarwal hit his second double-century in a month, and all-round assaults from Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav - both with 12 wickets each in the series - helped India to their 9th consecutive series win over the Bangla Tigers.
February 2020: New Zealand 2 – India 0
India’s perfect record came to a grinding halt when Kane Williamson’s New Zealand comprehensively defeated the visitors with a 2-0 scoreline.
The first Test saw something not seen in modern-day Test cricket, as the Black Caps’ target to win was a mere nine runs. Tim Southee’s nine-wicket haul (4/49 and 5/61) helped the hosts bowl out Virat Kohli’s men for 165 and 191, respectively, while the batting order - led by captain Williamson - made sure that Ishant’s 5/68 didn’t cause much trouble.
The second Test had a similar tale to tell, as New Zealand took advantage of India’s failure to capitalize on their surprise seven-run lead to win the game by seven wickets.
December-January 2020-21: Australia 1 – India 2
Miracles come in moments, and India’s tour down under - which began with a disheartening eight-wicket loss at the Adelaide Oval - turned into a memorable chapter in the country’s cricket history, courtesy of stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane.
After being dismissed for a record-low score of 36 in the first Test and Virat Kohli going on paternity leave, everyone wrote off India’s chances of making a comeback in the series.
But, Rahane’s century and Mohammed Siraj’s impressive debut (3-37) in the second Test - which India won by eight wickets - ignited the hopes of a remarkable comeback into the three-game series.
Stepping into the third Test, the odds of victory were marginally in India’s favor, but no one saw it coming that the visitors would pull off one of the most remarkable Test draws. Following Steve Smith’s decisive innings of 131 runs, India were given 407 to chase.
The Indian camp had some of their players carrying injuries as they came out to bat, as in the case of Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, and the heroic pair of Ravichandran Ashwin and Hanuma Vihari.
Entering Day 5, India needed 135 runs to win, and it fell upon Ashwin and Vihari to change the script of the contest. And to everyone’s shock, the duo stood tall for close to 40 overs to force the draw.
As India entered the final Test at the Gabba, the emotions kicked into overdrive. They aimed to carry the momentum from Sydney and prove to their detractors that the impossible is nothing. Making his competitive debut for India, T Natarajan took a three-fer and put the ball in the Aussies’ court to respond.
However, the real moment of joy came as Rishabh Pant hitting the winning runs off Josh Hazlewood to give India a come-from-behind 2-1 series win and the honour of being the first team to emerge victorious at the venue since the incomparable West Indies of 1988.
February-March, 2021: India 3 - England 1
This four-Test series would essentially decide the fate of the Indian cricket team, England, and Australia in the World Test Championship.
Permutations called for the hosts to win at least two Tests, but a disastrous start to the series - a 227-run defeat at Chennai - caused a lot of panic in the Indian camp.
However, the story took a different turn as Ravichandran Ashwin’s all-round masterclass - a five-wicket haul and a century coupled with debutant Axar Patel’s 5/60 wrapped up a massive 317-run win on their return to Chennai.
The third and fourth Tests played at the Narendra Modi Stadium brought about some controversial comments from the England camp, but it was all silenced by Axar’s 11-wicket haul. In due course, the fixture became the shortest Test match in terms of balls bowled since the 1930s - 842 deliveries.
In the final Test, Rishabh Pant proved to be an ideal practitioner of Aristotle’s “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet” quote as he scored a well-paced century to get the momentum back in India’s favour.
While Ashwin and Axar continued to wreck havoc on the England batsmen, Rishabh Pant scored a fantastic century under pressure and a certain Washington Sundar played a peculiar role with his unbeaten 96 that proved to a catalyst of India’s victory by an innings and 25 runs.
Feature image courtesy: SportsAdda