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Glory Down Under and nearly perfect at home – India’s road to the WTC final

Indian crikceters led by Virat Kohli celebrate a dismissal in the field. File photo: ICC

Southampton, June 17 (MNN) Despite starting their World Test Championship campaign with seven consecutive victories, India’s spot in the final was not cemented until their last Test in the qualification period.

ICC looks back at their road to the decider:

West Indies 0 – India 2, August 2019

India flew out of the blocks at the start of their WTC campaign, beating the West Indies 2-0 in the Caribbean.

A five-wicket haul from Ishant Sharma (5/43) saw India claim a 75-run first-innings lead in the series opener, and the tourists took control from there thanks to Ajinkya Rahane’s century (102). A target of 419 was always going to be too much to chase down, and Jasprit Bumrah made sure of that by taking 5/7.

Bumrah was again at the heart of India’s victory in the second Test, taking 6/27 and claiming his first Test hat-trick. That and a Hanuma Vihari century (111) helped India to a 257-run win.

They finished the series with 100 per cent of the points available to them.

India 3 – South Africa 0, October 2019

Two months later, India hosted South Africa in what looked set to be a serious test of their WTC ambitions.

The last time the two teams had met, South Africa had won 2-1. However, that was in South Africa. In India, Virat Kohli’s team were firm favourites. Nevertheless, a 3-0 scoreline still did not look the likeliest result before the series started.

The first Test saw Mayank Agarwal (215) and Rohit Sharma (176) put on a 317-run opening stand to help India to a total of 502/7d. A huge total by any standards but not one that blew South Africa out of the game as the Proteas scored 431 in their first-innings, despite a seven-wicket haul from Ravichandran Ashwin (7/145). It took a second-innings century from Rohit (127) and a five-for from Mohammed Shami (5/35) to secure victory in the end.

In the second Test, it was Kohli’s turn to shine, making an unbeaten 254 as India posted a first-innings total of 601/5, with Agarwal (108) scoring another century. South Africa did not put up as stiff a fight this time around, crumbling to an innings-and-137-run defeat.

Similar punishment was dealt out in the final Test of the series as a double-century from Rohit (212) and a century from Rahane (115) steered India to an innings-and-202-run victory.

Once again, India picked up another 120 points for the series, and maintained their 100 per cent record.

India 2 – Bangladesh 0, November 2019

India’s dominant run continued in late 2019 as they handed Bangladesh a 2-0 series defeat that notably featured the first day-night Test ever played in India.

Having dealt South Africa back-to-back innings defeats in their previous series, India repeated the trick two more times against Bangladesh.

In the series-opener, Agarwal (243) scored a double-century, and another fine all-round display from the attack ensured India only had to bat once.

India then got their first taste of day-night Test cricket and enjoyed themselves thoroughly. Ishant Sharma (5/22) took a five-for to help bowl Bangladesh out for 106 before a century from Kohli (136) put India in the driver’s seat.

Four more wickets to Ishant (4/56) in the second innings and five from Umesh Yadav (5/53) wrapped up the win inside three days.

At this stage, India had picked up all 360 points available to them.

New Zealand 2 – India 0, February 2020

India’s perfect record in the WTC came crashing down in early February.

Taking on New Zealand in New Zealand, the Indians were comprehensively defeated 2-0.

Sent out to bat at Basin Reserve, the Indians were knocked over for 165 as Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson took four wickets each. Five wickets from Ishant (5/68) kept New Zealand to 358. In the end, New Zealand only had to chase nine runs to win, with a five-wicket haul from Southee condemning India to their first defeat of the WTC.

There were signs of a bounce-back at Christchurch where India claimed a surprise seven-run lead despite a five-wicket haul from Jamieson.

Unfortunately for the Indians, they were unable to capitalise as they were bowled out for 124 in their second-innings and New Zealand went on to win by seven wickets.

Their percentage tally at this stage, as would become pertinent by the next time they played, was 75 per cent.

Australia 1 – India 2, December-January 2020-21

India’s hopes of reaching the WTC final were dealt a major blow at the start of the Border-Gavaskar series as Kohli’s team were bowled out for 36 at Adelaide Oval and sunk to an eight-wicket defeat.

With Kohli flying home for the birth of his first child and Mohammed Shami suffering a broken forearm, few gave India much chance of bouncing back.

At the MCG, they immediately put those concerns to bed in an eight-wicket victory, built on a century from stand-in captain Rahane (112). The win did, however, come at a cost as Yadav suffered a series-ending injury.

The injury toll got worse at the SCG where India scrapped their way to the most remarkable of draws. Set a target of 407 to win, India went into the innings with injury clouds hanging over both Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja, who had been struck on the arm and glove respectively in the first innings.

But it was Pant who turned the tide of the match, scoring a scintillating 97 off 118 to make a chase of 407 look possible on day five. When he and Cheteshwar Pujara perished, India needed 135 runs to win and the script was set for a mad dash to victory.

Instead, what followed was some of the bravest batting you’ll ever see as Ashwin ignored a tweak in his back and Vihari battled a torn hamstring. With Jadeja sitting padded up on the team balcony with a dislocated thumb, Ashwin and Vihari stood tall for close to 40 overs to force the draw.

Neither man was fit enough to play at the Gabba. Nor were Jadeja and Bumrah.

Few expected India to claim the series from there. It had been decades since a team had won at the Gabba and the side that had pulled it off were the incomparable West Indies of 1988. This was an Indian team down seven of their best bowlers and captain Kohli.

Five days later, Pant led the Indian team on a lap of honour at the Gabba. India had won the series and their WTC percentage sat at a healthy 71.66 per cent.

India 3 – England 1, February-March, 2021

India went into the England series needing to win at least two Tests and the campaign.

They got off to the worst possible start at Chennai, suffering a 227-run defeat as a Joe Root double-century buried them despite a six-wicket haul from Ashwin (6/61) in England’s second innings.

They rebounded in the second Test, where a century from Rohit (161) followed by a five-wicket haul from Ashwin (5/43) saw India take a first-innings lead of 195. Ashwin (106) followed his five-for with a century in India’s second innings, before five wickets from debutant Axar Patel (5/60) wrapped up a 317-run win.

Axar (6/38, 5/32) picked up where he left off in the third Test, taking 11 wickets to seal another comfortable victory for India.

In the final Test, after India had bowled England out for 205 in the first innings, there were some nerves when India were reduced to 146/6 in their reply. However, Pant once again emerged to underline why he is one of the brightest youngsters in the game, scoring a well-paced century to pull India back. Washington Sundar’s 96* bolstered India’s lead to 160.

Ashwin and Axar then got to work on the England batsmen, bowling them out for 135 to secure an innings-and-25-run victory, and seal the series 3-1.

And with that India’s spot in the WTC final was secured.

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