Southampton, June 14: The World Test Championship (WTC Final) between India and New Zealand is the culmination of a two-year journey the teams undertook through various triumph and tribulations.
During this journey, Virat Kohli captained India and Kane Williamson guided New Zealand admirably through peaks and chasms. Here's MyKhel takes a stock of India's road to the WTC Final, to be played at Southampton from June 18.
1. India vs West Indies, 2019
India started their WTC campaign, beating the West Indies 2-0 in the Caribbean. A five-wicket haul from Ishant Sharma (5/43) saw India claim a 75-run first-innings lead in the series opener, and the tourists took control from there thanks to Ajinkya Rahane's century (102). A target of 419 was always going to be too much to chase down, and Jasprit Bumrah made sure of that by taking 5/7.
Bumrah was again at the heart of India's victory in the second Test, taking 6/27 and claiming his first Test hat-trick. That and a Hanuma Vihari century (111) helped India to a 257-run win.
2. India vs South Africa, 2019
The first Test saw Mayank Agarwal (215) and Rohit Sharma (176) put on a 317-run opening stand to help India to a total of 502/7 declared. South Africa scored 431 in their first-innings, despite a seven-wicket haul from R Ashwin (7/145). It took a second-innings century from Rohit (127) and a five-for from Mohammed Shami (5/35) to secure victory.
In the second Test, it was Kohli's turn to shine, making an unbeaten 254 as India posted a first-innings total of 601/5, with Agarwal (108) scoring another century. South Africa did not put up as stiff a fight this time, crumbling to an innings-and-137-run defeat.
Similar punishment was dealt out to them in the final Test as a double-century from Rohit (212) and a century from Rahane (115) steered India to an innings-and-202-run victory.
3. India vs Bangladesh, November
India's dominant run continued in late 2019 as they handed Bangladesh a 2-0 series defeat that also featured the first day-night Test ever played in India. In the series-opener, Agarwal (243) scored a double-century, and another fine all-round display from the attack ensured India only had to bat once.
India then got their first taste of day-night Test cricket and enjoyed themselves thoroughly. Ishant Sharma (5/22) took a five-for to help bowl Bangladesh out for 106 before a century from Kohli (136) put India in the driver's seat. Four more wickets to Ishant (4/56) in the second innings and five from Umesh Yadav (5/53) wrapped up the win.
4. New Zealand vs India 2020
Taking on the Kiwis in New Zealand, India were comprehensively defeated 2-0. Sent out to bat at Basin Reserve, Wellington, India were knocked over for 165 as Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson took four wickets each. Five wickets from Ishant (5/68) kept New Zealand to 358. In the end, New Zealand only had to chase nine runs to win, with a five-wicket haul from Southee condemning India to their first defeat of the WTC.
There were signs of a bounce-back at Christchurch where India claimed a seven-run lead despite a five-wicket haul from Jamieson. Unfortunately for the Indians, they were unable to capitalise as they were bowled out for 124 in their second-innings and New Zealand went on to win by seven wickets.
5. Australia vs India 2020-21
India's hopes of reaching the WTC Final were dealt a major blow at the start of the Border-Gavaskar series as Kohli's team were bowled out for 36 at Adelaide Oval and sunk to an eight-wicket defeat.
At the MCG, they immediately put those concerns to bed in an eight-wicket victory, built on a century from stand-in captain Rahane (112). At the SCG, India scrapped their way to the most remarkable of draws. Set a target of 407 to win, India went into the innings with injury clouds hanging over both Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja.
But it was Pant who turned the tide of the match, scoring a scintillating 97 off 118 to make a chase of 407 look possible on day five. When he and Cheteshwar Pujara perished, India needed 135 runs to win.
What followed was some of the bravest batting you'll ever see as Ashwin ignored a tweak in his back and Hanuma Vihari battled a torn hamstring. Ashwin and Vihari stood tall for close to 40 overs to force the draw.
Few expected India to claim the series even then. It had been decades since a team had won at the Gabba and the side that had pulled it off were the incomparable West Indies of 1988. But Pant led an extraordinary chase as India won the series 2-1.
4. India vs England 2021
India faced England at home needing to win at least two of the four Tests and the series. They got off to the worst possible start at Chennai, suffering a 227-run defeat.
They rebounded in the second Test, where a century from Rohit (161) followed by a five-wicket haul from Ashwin (5/43) saw India take a first-innings lead of 195. Ashwin (106) followed his five-for with a century in India's second innings, before five wickets from debutant Axar Patel (5/60) wrapped up a 317-run win.
Axar (6/38, 5/32) picked up where he left off in the third Test, taking 11 wickets to seal another comfortable victory for India.
In the final Test, after India had bowled England out for 205 in the first innings, there were some nerves when India were reduced to 146/6 in their reply. However, Pant once again emerged to underline why he is one of the brightest youngsters in the game, scoring a well-paced century to pull India back. Washington Sundar's 96 bolstered India's lead to 160.
Ashwin and Axar then got to work on the England batsmen, bowling them out for 135 to secure an innings-and-25-run victory, and seal the series 3-1.
With that India's spot in the WTC final was secured.
(With ICC Inputs)