India and New Zealand will clash in the final of the inaugural edition of the World Test Championship starting at Southampton from the 18th of June. After the culmination of 59 Tests, the first edition of the ICC WTC which started with the Ashes Test in Birmingham in 2019, has finally reached its climax with the two best teams making it to the final.
There have been some great performances by a number of teams and players in the WTC. We select the best 5 based not only on the margin of win but also considering parameters like domination, fightback, opposition quality and situation and context of the match with respect to the series.
1. Ashes, Third Test, Leeds, 2019
Australia had thrashed England at Birmingham while the second Test at Lord’s ended in an exciting draw. It was the crucial third match at Leeds. England were bowled out for 67 in the first innings and were under severe pressure. They were finally set a massive target of 359 in the fourth innings. Ben Stokes - the great all-rounder then produced what is widely considered the greatest Test knock in the last innings in history.
Staring at 0-2 which would have meant a series win was impossible, Stokes came out to bat at 141 for 3 and blasted an undefeated 135 off 219 balls including 11 fours and 8 sixes taking the home team to a sensational one-wicket win. England were down and out and staring at a defeat at 286 for 9 before Stokes combined with Jack Leach and put together 76 for the last wicket off just 62 deliveries - out of which the tailender contributed a solitary one. He mixed caution with aggression, farmed the strike, soaked the pressure of the occasion and the situation and took the home side to a stunning win in a highly tense pressure-cooker type atmosphere scoring a brilliant 74 off just 45 deliveries in the match-winning partnership. Australia won the next Test but England drew level at The Oval.
2. India vs Australia, MCG (2020)
India were routed and humiliated for their lowest Test score in history - “36 all-out" in Adelaide and were having a torrid time Down Under in 2020 going down in the series opener by 8 wickets. To make matters worse they were without the services of their captain Virat Kohli for the rest of the series - he had to return home to attend the birth of his first child. To add salt to their wounds, their already depleted bowling attack which was without the services of Ishant Sharma, also lost out on Mohammed Shami who was injured during the Adelaide Test.
India had to put up a fight. It was a test of their character, will-power, talent and ability and in Ajinkya Rahane, they found an able leader who marshalled his troops to stage the greatest fightback in India’s Test history! Jasprit Bumrah led the resurgence returning with 4-56 and with able support from R Ashwin (3-35), bowled out Australia for just 195 in the first innings. However, India were in trouble at 61 for 2 when Rahane walked out to bat which further worsened to 64 for 3 at the fall of the New Wall. From there, Rahane took charge and with a support act from Ravindra Jadeja added 121 for the sixth-wicket changing the match on its head. India posted 326 as Rahane recorded a masterclass 112.
An inspired performance from the bowlers in the second innings including from the debutant Mohammed Siraj restricted Australia to 200 in the second innings and India chased down the target of 70 with 8 wickets in hand. This sensational fightback triggered something in the Indian team and they defied all odds, hostile conditions, a world-class bowling attack in its own backyard, hard quarantine and bio-bubble protocols and injuries to several key players including almost the entire pace attack and beat Australia 2-1 to record the greatest series win in India’s Test history. The roots of the win lay in that inspired fightback at the MCG.
3. England vs Sri Lanka, Galle (2021)
Joe Root’s splendid double hundred had led England to victory in the series opener at Galle. Sri Lanka showed signs of a fightback in the second Test at the same venue and notched up 381 in the first innings. Slow left-arm orthodox, Lasith Embuldeniya saw the back of the English openers and the visitors were reeling at 5 for 2 when skipper Root joined Jonny Bairstow at the crease. The pair led England’s fightback adding 111 for the third wicket. Root continued to attack from one end even as he lost his teammates from the other. He used his feet brilliantly against the spinners and made optimum use of the sweep shot hammering 186 off just 309 deliveries scoring more than half of England’s first innings’ total of 344.
England’s spinners - Dom Bess and Jack Leach took control and dismissed Sri Lanka for a paltry 126 in the second innings taking 8 wickets in equal measure between them. England chased down the target of 164 with six-wickets in hand. It was England’s second successive sweep in Sri Lanka in alien, hot and humid and spinner-friendly conditions. They had beaten Sri Lanka 3-0 in 2018. It also set them up nicely for the four-Test series against India.
4. India vs New Zealand, Christchurch (2020)
India were the best Test team in the world and had thrashed the opposition in the last five series which included wins in Australia and a series sweep at home against South Africa. Their two-Test series in New Zealand was built as their toughest test in the inaugural edition of the WTC. Tim Southee returned with 9 in the match at the Basin Reserve as India got its first taste of the challenge ahead.
A fightback was expected from India in the second Test at Christchurch but Kyle Jamieson returned with five in the first innings to bowl out the visitors for 242. Shami and Bumrah got India back into the match as the home team were dismissed for 235 actually giving India a slender lead. But the old work-horses, Boult and Southee ran through the famed Indian line-up in the second innings skittling them for 124. New Zealand went on to win by 7 wickets and swept the series 2-0.
It was India’s first defeat in six series and their only one in the first edition of the WTC. For New Zealand it was a stamp of authority of their domination at home and their tremendous run in Test cricket since March 2017 when they lost to South Africa. Beating India was like a badge of honour and the pinnacle of their great run in Test cricket. They continued to dominate annihilating West Indies and Pakistan and made it to the final of the WTC on the basis of this startling run at home in Test cricket.
5. India vs England, Chennai (2021)
India were under pressure. They needed a win in the home series against a strong England unit to qualify for the WTC final against New Zealand. The situation became tense when the visitors caused a massive upset with a win in the series opener in Chennai. India needed an inspired performance and the Hit-Man was their man!
Rohit Sharma produced one of the most remarkable hundreds under pressure counter-attacking to score 161 off just 231 deliveries even as others failed around him. India lost early wickets and were struggling at 86 for 3 when Rohit combined with Rahane and changed the match on its head with a brilliant 162-run partnership. India posted 329. Ashwin took over and bagged 5 in the first innings to rout England for just 134 and from there the home team dictated play. India went on to win the series 3-1 and significantly qualify for the final of the WTC.
The innings that changed the momentum of the match and the series came off the blade of Rohit Sharma. On a difficult wicket when most other specialist batsmen failed, not only did he score runs but dominated the English attack. It is rated as one of the greatest Test hundreds in Indian conditions.