India are on the cusp of the maiden World Test Championship (WTC) final as they gear up to take on England in the fourth and final match of the series. Of course, that berth in the title clash is still not guaranteed.
England are out of the race but if they win the final Test and level the 4-match series 2-2, Australia will slip through and play the Black Caps at Lord’s in June. India need to either win or play out a draw in Motera when the 4th Test gets underway on Thursday.
India have braved plenty of odds to reach this position. Their WTC journey started in the West Indies back in August 2019 and they had a dream run before going to New Zealand.
India steamrolled West Indies 2-0, whitewashed South Africa 3-0 and Bangladesh 2-0 but failed to breach New Zealand. The pandemic struck soon after, and once international cricket resumed, India produced one of their sweetest triumphs in Australia.
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Without their regular captain after the first Test in Adelaide, with injuries to senior players throughout the series, India still managed to stun Australia 2-1 in their own backyard. And they did all this with fake news about breaching bio-bubbles and nasty sledging from the Australian captain who certainly was at the end of his wits during an undoubtedly frustrating draw for the hosts in Sydney.
Back home, India were expected to dominate England but Joe Root and his bowlers had other ideas. Root made the most of excellent batting conditions to push India on the backfoot with a classy double hundred – as the pitch started deteriorating, India’s batsmen struggled against a quality bowling attack. Game, set and match to England.
Within days, it was business as usual for the Indians. Their spinners wreaked havoc. In the absence of Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin joined forces with Axar Patel to spin a web around the clueless English batsmen. After a convincing victory (by 317 runs) in the 2nd Test in Chennai, however, former England cricketers started crying foul.
How can a pitch turn so much? Excuse me. What’s wrong with a pitch which assists spinners? Are they not part of the game? What happens when Indian teams go overseas and play with only 1 spinner? Or none at all.
And when the Ahmadabad Test match got over inside 2 days, the noise over the pitch reached a crescendo. Michael Vaughan, a former England captain of fine cricketing reputation and now a well-established troll on social media, could not bear the sight of his country slipping down 1-2 after inept batting from Joe Root’s men.
For all practical purposes, the ball did not even turn square consistently at the Narendra Modi Stadium. 21 of the 30 wickets to fall were off straight deliveries and Virat Kohli conceded the batmen did not bat well enough on a challenging pitch.
No sooner was the Test match over than a host of former England captains – Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss and Michael Vaughan – started crying foul. Even as these three men sought to create a narrative, Jack Leach, the only England spinner to feature in all 3 Tests so far, said pitches in his country needed to be better. Leach said he had no issues with the pitch and dismissed the chatter outside.
India of course know how to dismiss all that chatter outside their own bubble. When no one gave them a chance in Australia without Virat Kohli and some of their other heavy-duty players, the young guns rallied around Ajinkya Rahane and Ravi Shastri to pull off a sensational win.
And just when India fought back heroically after losing the first Test to England at home, a group of former England captains tried to take the gloss off those remarkable victories. But they failed. They failed the moment one of their dismissed those one-sided conversations as white noise.
The great Vivian Richards implored the critics to stop moaning and groaning over the Motera pitch. In all fairness, Pragyan Ojha summed it up well and reckoned it was the pink ball which challenged the batsmen more than the pitch – it’s a novelty and players will learn along the way.
Normal duty resumes on Thursday when the teams return to play with the red ball and it is unlikely the final Test will be decided in 2 days again. In any case, India have a lot to do to end their campaign on a high.
You cannot write this England team off and you can never underestimate the genius of Joe Root or Ben Stokes. Those blokes can change a game pretty quickly. But India have been a force in the WTC and in Motera this weekend, they will look at and beyond Rohit Sharma, Axar Patel and R Ashwin to deliver them another victory.