Ahmedabad: On an uneventful day of cricket, India qualified for the World Test Championship (WTC) final and clinched the Border-Gavaskar Trophy for the fourth successive time after the fourth and final match against Australia ended in a drab draw, here on Monday.
India’s spot in the WTC final against Australia was locked before the post-lunch session when Sri Lanka lost the Christchurch Test to New Zealand by two wickets as Kane Williamson’s magnificent hundred steered his side to one of the most thrilling wins in Test cricket.
Australia were 175 for 2 in 78.1 overs in their second innings with a lead of 84 runs when the two teams agreed to settle for a draw. India have now beaten Australia by an identical 2-1 margin in the last four series — 2017 (home), 2018-19 (away), 2020-21 (away) and now 2023 at home.
It was a ‘Memorable Monday’ for India as a country in both performing arts and sports with ‘RRR’s song ‘Natu Natu’ getting the Oscar for the best song and Elephant Whisperers winning the ‘Best Documentary Award’. By the afternoon, cricket added to the list of global accomplishments and now Rohit Sharma would love to break the decade-long ICC Trophy jinx.
Draw was only result possible
With a featherbed of a track on offer, which former Australian opener Mark Waugh sarcastically said can host a ”22-day Test match”, an outcome favouring either side was almost impossible, with only two completed innings in four days.
For Australia, it was important that their batters made the best use of the flat surface without being under pressure as they had already qualified for the WTC final. Travis Head (90 off 163 balls) will certainly put pressure on David Warner when he comes back while Marnus Labuschagne (63 not out, 213 balls) also did well.
The Indian team could feel chuffed after back-to-back WTC final qualification but head coach Rahul Dravid and captain Sharma would know well that Australia will be a different proposition in the final where the track will certainly not aid the Indian spinners like it did in the first three Tests at home.
An Australian attack, comprising Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, skipper Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon on an early June English track, could prove to be a handful but India have won two series against this attack in Australia.
In England, India will have to play with a single spinner and that will be all-rounder Jadeja if he remains injury free. But not having Jasprit Bumrah and Rishabh Pant will hurt them in England way more than it would have in Indian conditions where spinners did bulk of the job in favourable conditions.
Kona Bharat (101 runs in 4 Test) isn’t cut out for elite cricket and as a wicketkeeper isn’t great shakes as he struggled against turning deliveries as well as when the wobbly seamers were bowling. He dropped three catches on the day and having him as a keeper-batter in England would be a risk that Indian team management can ill-afford.
KL Rahul’s form deserted him big time but there were two very significant gains that will boost the Indian team’s confidence.
No one would have believed at the start of the series that Axar Patel (264 runs) will end up as the team’s No. 2 run getter behind Virat Kohli (297 runs) with three half-centuries in four games. His batting has improved tremendously but less than five wickets in a four-Test series, where he was grossly under-bowled, doesn’t do justice to his abilities.
Also, the Indian spin attack’s limitations on a batting belter was once again exposed. Ashwin had a tremendous first innings where he took six wickets and also ended up as the highest wicket-taker (25) in the series. Ashwin, by far, looked the best spinner when the going got tough but the same couldn’t be said about Jadeja and Patel, who were pedestrian and slightly out of sync the moment the surface had nothing to offer.
On the day, Head and Labuschagne hardly faced any difficulty while playing the two left-arm spinners as they moved between front-foot and back-foot at will. The only delivery from Patel that turned and bounced was the one that denied Head a well-deserved century.
Brief Scores: Australia: 480 and 175 for 2 in 78.1 overs (Travis Head 90, Marnus Labuschagne 63 not out; Ravichandran Ashwin 1/56, Axar Patel 1/36).
India 1st innings: 571 all out.