India set up a title clash with New Zealand in the inaugural ICC World Test Championship (WTC) after completing a 3-1 series win over England. The hosts, needing only a draw to seal a spot in the final, wrapped up an innings and 25-run win over England inside three days in the fourth and final Test at Ahmedabad on Saturday.
Virat Kohli's men bounced back after being outplayed in the opening match at Chennai. The English batsmen were found wanting against the spin duo of R Ashwin and Axar Patel on Indian wickets. Left-arm spinner Axar picked up 27 wickets from three Tests in his debut series, while the experienced Ashwin scalped 32 from four matches and in the process went past the 400-wicket mark in the third Test at Ahmedabad.
Unlike the pink-ball Test at the same Narendra Modi Stadium which finished inside two days, the final match of the series was played on a much better surface. England were left to rue missed chances as they were bowled out for a paltry 205 on the first day after Joe Root won an important toss. Though the England pace duo of James Anderson and Ben Stokes as well as left-arm spinner Jack Leach bowled their hearts out to reduce India to 146/6, Rishabh Pant's memorable 101 and a gritty unbeaten 96 by Washington Sundar handed the home side a precious 160-run lead.
The English batsmen lacked the fight and were bundled out for 135 in their second innings as Team India emerged victorious. Axar, who was drafted into the side in place of the injured Ravindra Jadeja, did remarkably well. He was relentless and his accuracy made the job tougher for the batters.
It was business as usual for man-of-the-series Ashwin on the helpful home wickets. The wily offie spun a web around the visitors and also pulled his weight with the bat as he smashed a hundred in the second Test at his home ground Chepauk.
Pant has been simply sensational with the bat. He played a big role in India's 2-1 series win in Australia and continued in the same vein. His hundred tilted the final Test in India's favour. The southpaw was watchful to begin with and played a flurry of shots once the second new-ball was taken. His onslaught on Anderson and Stokes on the second evening deflated the Englishmen. The 23-year-old has also improved his wicketkeeping significantly.
The Indian top order barring opener Rohit Sharma struggled to get going. However, the lower order kept bailing them out just as in Australia. Sundar has made the most of the limited opportunities that have come his way. The Tamil Nadu youngster is more of a batting all-rounder and has staked his claim for a place in the playing eleven.
India and New Zealand have been the two most consistent teams in the WTC. India won five out of the six series they played in, with the lone defeat coming at the hands of the Kiwis in early 2020. The win Down Under despite the team being plagued by injuries was truly remarkable.
The Indians were expected to beat England at home. However, the series was much closer than the eventual 3-1 margin. The big difference between the two sides was that India played the key moments better.
The WTC final in England in June should be an exciting game. New Zealand have been a bogey team for India of late starting with 2019 ICC World Cup semifinal. The Indians were blanked in the two-Test series on their tour last year. The Kiwi seam attack consisting of Trent Boult, Kyle Jamieson and Neil Wagner give them a slight edge over India in English conditions. But the Indians have shown plenty of character and Kohli will be determined to win a big title to end the debate over how good they are.