India’s tour of England begins with the ICC World Test Championship finals on Friday - and it can’t get bigger than this. We have had in the past ICC 50-overs and T20 World Cups but this has to be the pinnacle of all as Test cricket is the highest and purest form of the game which tests the temperament of a player - which is emotional, mental and most importantly physical.
India’s track record in England for their last three series has been poor - starting from 2011 where they went down 4-0, then in 2014 India lost 3-1 and in their last tour in 2018, India lost 4-1 to hosts England.
But before they face England in the five Test matches, they first need to get past New Zealand - who have been their nemesis in ICC tournaments. New Zealand first spoilt India’s party in the ICC first Champions Trophy in 2000 when Chris Carins singlehandedly led them to their only major ICC trophy till date. Then in the 2007 and 2016, New Zealand managed to beat India in the T20 World Cup games and most importantly in the 2019 ICC World Cup semi-finals at Manchester, New Zealand upset overwhelming favourites India again.
The best part of this New Zealand team is that they make less noise but do get their act right when it comes to playing, especially against India.
India’s journey to reach the World Test Championship finals has been much more than a rollercoaster ride where India first beat West Indies 2-0 in their backyard and got 120 points. When South Africa toured India in 2019, India blanked them 3-0 thanks to Rohit Sharma’s tremendous form with the bat where he scored three hundreds - which included a double hundred as an opener and gave India further 120 points.
India then eased past Bangladesh 2-0 and got further 120 points and were sitting pretty well with 360 points till they bumped into Kane Williamson’s New Zealand where the Kiwis got the better of India 2-0 in two low-scoring Test matches in seaming conditions where Kyle Jammison was the standout bowler. India’s next tour was against a full strength Australia and this is where they came back after the first Test thrashing where they were bowled out for 36 - their lowest score - and went on to win the series 2-1 without nine of their main players who were injured and captain Virat Kohli missing due to paternity leave.
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India were sitting at 430 points and were almost assured of a place in the final but because of the pandemic, ICC set out new rules where percentage of wins were given preference than the points earned. This meant in the last series, India had to win at least by at least 2-1 margin to qualify for the final. India did go down in the first Test but came back to beat England in the next three Test matches and secured a place against New Zealand.
In the last two series, young Indian players who were given a chance put their hands up - be it Rishabh Pant, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, Washington Sundar, T. Natarajan and Axar Patel and got India out of trouble and made them win the match and qualify for the finals.
In the World Test Championship finals, India are going in with their full squad with every player fit and with a lot of experience in the likes of Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant and Kohli - along with young Shubman Gill to take care of their batting. In the pace attack, India has Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and to back it up they have two reliable allrounders in Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja - who are not only quality spinners but also can score handy runs.
With all their bases covered, Indian team does have all the swag for the World Test Championship finals but can India get past the monkey of their back - which is to beat the Kiwis who have been their nemesis in ICC championships?
Your guess is as good as mine as to who will be the world Test champions for the first time.