After 60 Tests, 18,547.3 overs, 58,525 runs and 1,906 wickets, the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC) concluded with Kane Williamson’s New Zealand lifting the coveted mace after beating India in an epic battle at the rain-soaked Southampton. The ICC’s inaugural showpiece event began on August 1, 2019 and went through unprecedented hurdles of a global pandemic but managed to get over the line by June 23, 2021, giving the audiences countless moments which are possible only in the longest format.
As the cycle comes to end, we take a look at some of the best moments of the maiden World Test Championship.
Smith, Stokes light up the Ashes
There is nothing better than starting the WTC with the most anticipated biennial Test event of all – The Ashes. The century-long rivalry between England and Australia produced more than a few great moments but two players stood out. Steve Smith, returning to the Test scene following his infamous ball-tampering saga ban, looked motivated than ever as he mowed down long-standing batting records with a herculean effort of 774 runs in four Tests at an average of 110.57. Smith scored three hundreds, a double century and three fifties, wearing down the mighty pace attack of England for 1943 minutes over four Tests.
In doing so, Smith set a new record for most runs in a single Test series in the 21st century and equalled Sunil Gavaskar’s tally of 774 runs in four Tests against West Indies in 1971. For his metronomic effort, Smith was awarded the Compton-Miller Medal for the Player of the Series.
In the same series, English all-rounder Ben Stokes played a knock that will be remembered for ages. England were staring down the barrel after losing the first Test and a drawn second Test meant that the hosts had to chase down a mammoth target of 359 to keep the series at even keel. After walking in at the end of Day 3 at Headingley, Stokes got some extra motivation from an extra-chirpy David Warner and managed to get to stumps alongside Joe Root.
On the final day, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon were purring as England went from 156/3 to 261/7 before tea. It looked all over for England after Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad’s dismissals reduced them to 286/9 when Stokes launched his full-blown counterattack. With 73 to win with Jack Leach at the other end, Stokes smashed 51 runs off just 37 balls as he barely celebrated his century. Two runs away from the target, Leach got lucky with a run-out chance and an LBW as he ran a single that levelled scores. Stokes then clubbed Pat Cummins to the extra-cover boundary as he threw his arms wide open and let out a roar to create one of the iconic images in Ashes history.
India’s comeback from 36 all out to series win Down Under
It was not the best of starts for India in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in December 2020. Captain Virat Kohli was supposed to leave after the first Test in Adelaide for the birth of his first child and the pacer Ishant Sharma was out of the squad due to an injury. After taking a 53-run lead in the first innings, Kohli’s men lost their first wicket with seven runs on the board and lost their remaining eight wickets for 29 runs. Mohammed Shami was retired hurt due to a blow to his arm and India succumbed to their lowest ever Test total in history.
Shami was out of the series and so were Jasprit Bumrah, Hanuma Vihari, Umesh Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, and Ravichandran Ashwin over the course of the next two Tests. But after winning the second Test and saving the third Test at Sydney by the skin of their teeth, the atmosphere in the dressing room was different.
Five rookies, including three pacers, led the attack in the final Test with aplomb as they dismissed a strong Australian batting line-up for 369 in the first innings. When the top-order faltered at 186/6, Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur put up 123 runs for the seventh wicket to help the visitors post 336 in the first innings. Mohammed Siraj, who was grieving his father’s death, claimed 5-73 in the second innings as Australia set a daunting target of 328 runs, which was never chased in Brisbane.
Opener Shubman Gill laid the foundation with a fluent 91 while Cheteshwar Pujara endured the pain of multiple venomous bouncers directed at his ribs and hands to add a valuable 56. However, Pat Cummins dismissed Pujara, stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane and Mayank Agarwal in a short span as series defeat loomed over India. Indian wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant, fresh off his 97 from Sydney, blunted the Australian attack with ferocious hitting. He forged a 53-run partnership with Washington while batting with authority as India crossed the 300-run mark. The left-hander finished off the chase in a jiffy as India snapped Australia’s 32-year long unbeaten run at The Gabba to clinch the series.
West Indies win as cricket resumes amid pandemic
International cricket, much like life everywhere across the globe, came to a standstill in early 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic spread rapidly across different continents. Amid uncertain times when sporting events such as the Olympics were stuck in a limbo, England and Wales Cricket Board and West Indies Cricket Board put their resources together to bring back international cricket by arranging three-match Test series across two venues in July 2020.
Strict quarantine rules, multiple tests, no saliva rules for the cricket ball became the new normal as West Indies shocked an England side in Ben Stokes’ first Test as captain. Jason Holder led Windies from the front as he claimed 6-42 to dismiss the hosts for 204 in the first innings. In reply, Kraigg Brathwaite, Shane Dowrich contributed fifties while the entire batting line-up resisted Stokes’ pace and James Anderson’s swing as the visitors gained 114-run lead.
England put up a stiff resistance in the form of fifties from Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley, but Shannon Gabriel led Windies’ fightback with fifer by cleaning up the tail-enders. Set 200 to chase under tricky conditions, West Indies were reduced to 27/3 but Jermaine Blackwood steadied the chase by forging important partnerships with Roston Chase and Shane Dowrich to take them over the line with four wickets remaining. Their win shocked the cricketing world, but the return of cricket mattered more than anything for fans.
Test Cricket returns to Pakistan after a decade
Just 90.2 overs, roughly a day’s worth of play was possible over five days of the Test match between 11-15 December 2019. Nine sessions of the match were wiped out by rain as it headed towards an inevitable draw. Fans still thronged the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium and kept the decibel levels high under pouring rain. It was, after all, the first Test match in the country after a ten-year exile as an international host.
Following the 2009 terror attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore, international teams were not in favour of visiting Pakistan and it took Lanka to reassure other nations to send their teams to the Asian country for international cricket. Pakistan, under the captaincy of Azhar Ali, clinched the series 1-0 with a 263-run victory in the second Test in Karachi. It was a positive result on the field, but hosting two matches meant a significant step for the Pakistan Cricket Board to bring international cricket back to the country.