This was a fascinating series, to say the least. Indian team finally playing cricket in front of the home crowd after a long period. This was also a pivotal series to decide the final of the World Test Championship. 2 giants of the sport going head to head to secure a berth for the final against New Zealand. Both the teams are a different beast at their home turf. It wasn’t a speculation to predict a thumping by India especially carrying the momentum from the series win against Australia. Regardless, it promised to be another entertaining contest between the two biggest teams in the world.
This 4 test series was played at 2 venues — the first 2 matches in Chennai followed by 2 matches at the newly inaugurated stadium in Motera. Everyone expected India to win comfortably with their experience and the opposition’s discomfort with a spin-friendly wicket. England managed to win the toss and put India in a tough position right from the start. Skipper Joe Root’s double century along with a great contribution from the squad piled up misery for the Indian team. It was an uphill battle and India slipped along the path to lose the match to England. The only highlight for the Indian team was Ishant Sharma’s 300th test wicket. He became the 6th Indian bowler and the 3rd Indian seamer to accomplish this feat, but also the slowest ever in the history books. It was an alert to the Indian team to get off their high horse and resort to their strengths to recover from this situation.
Indian team included debutante Axar Patel in their lineup for the second test. It turned the tides of not just the match but the entire series in India’s favour. He replaced an injured Jadeja for the series at the most opportune moment. Despite the same venue, the pitch showed a complete turnaround from the previous match. It offered great help to the spinners and the Ashwin-Axar duo made the most of it. Rohit Sharma scored a decisive 161 in the first innings and the spinners took it from there. Ashwin grabbed 5 wickets in the first innings and scored a century in India’s second innings to challenge England to a mammoth chase. Axar shone at his debut by scalping 5 wickets in the second Innings handing India their biggest win against England.
3rd test was a day-night test at the newly inaugurated stadium. The fans in attendance to witness exciting cricket at the biggest stadium in the world for 5 days were left with bittersweet memories. Not because India won but they managed to do so in less than 2 days, the shortest completed test match in more than 70 years. Indian spinners wreaked havoc left, right and centre. Axar Patel managed to take 5 wickets in both innings and England managed to register their lowest total against India. India wasn’t prolific with the bat either but could sufficiently outscore England in the 1st innings to carry over the advantage while chasing a mere 49 for the win. The debut wicket surprised both sides so much so that Joe Root, a secondary bowling option registered a performance of 5 wickets for 8 runs. England failed to capitalize after winning the toss by playing only a single spinner. This match proved to be an important milestone for two Indian bowlers. Ishant Sharma played his 100th test match and Ashwin became the fastest Indian bowler to reach 400 wickets.
4th test was no different. Coming into the second match at this venue, both the teams were better prepared to score a decent total in the first Innings. However, a deflated England could not save their honour with Pant scoring a century and Sundar narrowly missing out on one. The lead proved too big for England and they just wanted to get back home so fast they couldn’t even ask India to bat again. Ashwin and Axar both managed to secure 5 wickets and capped up another memorable series victory for India. Axar Patel equalled Dilip Doshi’s record for most wickets in a debut series. The only difference, Axar managed it in 3 fewer matches than Dilip. Ashwin became the first Indian bowler to take more than 30 wickets in a series, twice.
This series would always be remembered for the heroics of Axar Patel and Ashwin, bagging an astonishing 59 wickets amongst them. From a batting standpoint, the team does not rely anymore on the likes of Pujara, Kohli and Rahane. Rohit Sharma, Pant, Ashwin and Sundar outscored our top batsmen. It has truly been a team performance against Australia and now England. The team has also managed to make a comeback on both occasions after losing the 1st match. These signs give immense hope to the fans about the possibility of winning the first-ever World Test Championship. As usual, it makes it a lot tougher for the selectors to select the best players for the lone test against New Zealand at the Lord’s. A good problem to have. India will play New Zealand at a neutral venue offering equal advantage and disadvantage to both teams. The stakes are really high and you just get a single opportunity.
The Indian pitches are routinely criticized for favouring the spinners giving an upper hand to the home team. Now it might seem like an unfair advantage from a neutral perspective, if it exists. England and Australian pitches offer a similar advantage to fast bowlers with swing and bounce. No one complained when India managed to score only 36 runs or all those times when Australia or England whitewashed the touring Indian teams. Guess what, Motera pitch didn’t offer spin but deceived the batsmen to play for turn and leave them open to the straight balls crashing stumps. It was refreshing to see the spinners community support the pitch and Indian spinners in the aftermath and rightfully so. It was a series dominated by the bowling skills and struggle to counter spinners by the new-age cricketers. For the majority, Indian batsmen equally struggled to dominate England bowlers but showed resilience and courage at the right moments. Virat Kohli became the joint fourth most successful captain with 36 test wins, putting a temporary stop to his scrutiny as a leader.
It’s about time we stop crying foul over the pitches and accept the hard reality. Home teams would always be the favourite and away teams would always need monumental effort to secure a win. Yet time and time again teams have proved to win against all odds. India’s young and energetic team has realised that the right attitude and character can make up for what one might lack in technique and skill. Indian team will look to claim the inaugural World Test Championship trophy and prove their might against a formidable opponent. Let’s hope that the Indian team continues their winning track record.