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WTC Final 2023: India's road was full of thrills, last-minute hurdles

It was not smooth sailing for India as it ducked many hurdles which included results of other teams to be considered as well

India beat Australia 2-1 in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2022-23. Photo: BCCI

India beat Australia 2-1 in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2022-23. Photo: BCCI

Abhishek Singh New Delhi
The Indian team, which made it to the final of the inaugural edition of the World Test Championships in 2021 and was defeated by New Zealand, have made it to the final of the second edition as well. It will face Australia in the final starting June 7, 2023, at the Oval in London, England.

However, India's journey to this final was nothing less than a thriller with twists and turns happening after almost every series.

Almost won the series in England

Team India, right after losing the World Test Championship 2021 Final against, New Zealand, played a series against England to start their journey in the second edition of the tournament. The first game at Nottingham was drawn even as England were bowled out for 183 in the first innings. Joe Root hit a century in the second innings. 

However, there was no saving England in the second Test as Mohammed Siraj, Jasprit Burmah and Ishant Sharma hurt the England batters mentally and physically, bowing them out for 120 in the second innings and winning the Test by 151 runs. 

Following the short ball saga, James Anderson got fired up and bowled a brilliant spell to dismiss India for 78 in the first innings. Thanks to a century from captain Joe Root, England scored 432 and then bowled Virat Kohli’s men out for 278 to win the match by an innings and 76 runs. The fourth Test went to India by a huge margin of 157 runs, but it was the fifth and final Test that caused the problems.

India decided to leave the series before the Manchester Test citing the Covid-19 breakout. ECB was furious but could not do much. However, it was decided post the IPL 2021 that India will play that match in 2022 when it visits England for a limited-over series. 

By the time the fifth Test happened, Joe Root was not England’s Test captain Brendon McCullum and his Bazball were all making rounds in the cricketing world as a game changer. It indeed turned out to be a game-changer as England beat India by seven wickets and the series, which India were winning 2-1, became 2-2. 

Beat New Zealand at home, but not comprehensively

India were back after a 2-1 advantage over England to play the WTC Champions New Zealand. Virat Kohli asked for rest and Ajinkya Rahane was appointed captain. It was expected that India would beat the Blackcaps, but the New Zealanders showed character and drew the second game in Kanpour, after having lost the first one in Mumbai. 

This was also the series in which Ajaz Patel became the second bowler after Anil Kumble to pick all 10 wickets in an innings. The left-arm orthodox bowler achieved this feat during the Mumbai Test.

Loss against South Africa and change in leadership 

Till the New Zealand series it was all fine. But people had been waiting for India’s tour to South Africa at a time when South Africa were going through a rebuilding phase as far as the Test team was concerned. Virat’s team was supposed to win this series and present a strong case for them to make it to the WTC final once again. 

After winning the first Test by 113 runs, there was a sudden change in the outcome of the second Test as Dean Elgar stood tall against all odds and helped his team chase down 243 with seven wickets in hand. He scored 96*. 

With the series 1-1, India were still in with a chance to take the trophy home, but once again it was one batter’s brilliance that overpowered the spirit of Virat’s men. Rishabh Pant’s 100 was the only high point in the game in which India were bowled out for 198 in the second innings. Chasing 212 for victory, South Africa lost their opener Aiden Markram early. 

But Keegan Petersen decided to play a fine knock and scored 83, which turned out to be the platform setter as Temba Bavuma and Rassie van der Dussen added an unbeaten 57 for the fourth wicket. 

Post this series loss, Virat Kohli, who was under tremendous pressure already having lost the T20 World Cup and World Test Championships Final in the same year, was asked to step down from India’s captaincy altogether and Rohjit Sharma was named India’s all-format captain. 

Easy series wins against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh improve prospects

The first assignment for Rohit Sharma as Test captain was India’s home Test series against Sri Lanka. India beat the Lankan Lions 2-0. Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant were stand-out batters of the series for India. 

A huge gap came before India played another series. Having played Sri Lanka in March, India toured Bangladesh in December, but not with the full-strength squad. KL Rahul was the skipper and India won the first Test by a huge margin of 188 runs. In the second game, Bangladesh spinners, Taijul Islam in particular tried to show some fight. 

Chasing 144 for victory, the Indian unit reeled at 74/7, staring down a defeat that would have been very hard to digest. But before that could happen, Ravichandran Ashwin partnered with Shreyas Iyer as India pulled a three-wicket geist at Dhaka to seal the series 2-0 and move up in the WTC points table. 

The Sri Lankan threat during Border-Gavaskar Trophy
 
When Australia came touring India, India were already in the second position in the points table thanks to Australia losing the three-match series against Australia 0-2 and against England 1-2. The only threat remaining to India was Sri Lanka who were to play a two-match Test series against the Kiwis in New Zealand. 

For India to qualify without depending on other results, it had to win 3-0 or 3-1 at the least. For Australia, it was just about not losing it 0-4. The way India played in the first two Tests, it looked like Australia will be clean-swept. After winning the Nagpur Test by an innings and 132 runs and the Delhi Test by six wickets, the loss by nine wickets in Indore was a shocker for the Rohit Sharma-led team. 

The fourth Test in Ahmdeabad become a must-win as a Sri Lanka series win against England would have meant curtains for India. The hosts could not win the fourth Test, but by the end of the fifth day’s play, India had made it to the WTC 2023 final as the Kiwis battled it to the end and chased down 285 on the last day of the first Test.

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First Published: May 31 2023 | 10:08 PM IST

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