India secure WTC final berth after New Zealand beat Sri Lanka in a thriller
Ahmedabad, March 13: Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne’s century stand ensured there was no drama on the fifth day of the fourth Test in Ahmedabad as the final duel of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy ended in a draw.
On an uneventful day of cricket, India however qualified for the World Test Championship (WTC) final and clinched the Border-Gavaskar Trophy for the fourth successive time.
Courtesy a dramatic last-ball thrilling New Zealand win over Sri Lanka in the first Test in Christchurch, India’s spot in the WTC final against Australia was locked before the post-lunch session.
India needed wickets to bring life into the drab contest but Head and Labuschagne showed great temperament, ensuring there was no fairytale win for the hosts.
India earlier took a 91-run first innings lead to put themselves in an unbeatable position heading into the final day but Australia made 175/2 batting resolutely to frustrate India and forcing a draw.
It was also the first Test of the series that lasted the full five days.
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 retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy trophy since 2016-17 beating 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.
(ToI With inputs from PTI)