Kohli sets sights on winning World Test Championship

Published March 8, 2021
Skipper Virat Kohli said India were ‘relieved’ to make the inaugural World Test Championship final and would now focus on that ‘one big game’ against New Zealand in June after seeing off England. — Reuters/File
Skipper Virat Kohli said India were ‘relieved’ to make the inaugural World Test Championship final and would now focus on that ‘one big game’ against New Zealand in June after seeing off England. — Reuters/File

AHMEDABAD: Skipper Virat Kohli said India were ‘relieved’ to make the inaugural World Test Championship final and would now focus on that ‘one big game’ against New Zealand in June after seeing off England.

India crushed Joe Root’s side inside three days in the fourth Test in Ahmedabad on Saturday to clinch the series 3-1 and finish top of the Test Championship table ahead of New Zealand.

India had led the standings until November, when a change in the points system because of disruption brought by the coronavirus pandemic promoted Australia to top spot.

The new system, based on percentage of points instead of total points, left India with the daunting task of needing to win Test series away in Australia and at home against England to make the final.

“We are relieved that now we have made it to the final,” Kohli told the Board of Control for Cricket in India TV. “Probably if you look at the last two-and-half years how we have played, we deserve to be in that final. Now it’s just about getting together as a group again and focusing on that one big game which is quite exciting for all of us.”

New Zealand’s berth in the final was secured when the Test series between South Africa and Australia was postponed last month.

Kohli had maintained that the championship race was merely a ‘distraction’ for his team, who did not need any further incentive to win Test matches.

India twice bounced back from opening losses in four-match series to beat Australia 2-1 and England 3-1, with each game throwing up new heroes, notably wicket-keeper/batsman Rishabh Pant.

The left-handed Pant, who played a key part in the win Down Under in January, hit 101 on Friday to set up India’s latest victory by an innings and 25 runs.

Pace bowler Mohammed Siraj, all-rounder Washington Sundar and spinner Axar Patel also burst into the side making an immediate impact.

India overcame adversity, including being bundled out for a Test low of 36 to lose the series opener in Adelaide, the departure of Virat Kohli on paternity leave and a succession of injuries to senior players, to level the series in the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne.

A draw in Sydney followed before a patched-up India inflicted an astonishing first Test defeat on Australia at Brisbane’s Gabba ground for 32 years to win the series.

“We played cricket well in India, we played cricket well outside India as well,” senior batsman Rohit Sharma said. “We were put under pressure, we were put in that difficult situation many a time and we responded well which is why we stand here qualified for the final.”

Spinning all-rounder Ravichandran Ashwin said that for players like himself and fast bowler Ishant Sharma, who mostly feature in Tests, the final is ‘like literally the World Cup’.

But head coach Ravi Shastri is still bitter how the qualifying rules were changed last year.

The nine top Test teams were originally scheduled to play six series each over two years in the WTC, with the top two making the showcase final in London.

But after the Covid-19 pandemic halted the game last year, the governing International Cricket Council decided to rank teams based on percentage of points earned from completed matches, instead of total points, to determine the finalists.

India, leading the table with 360 points, slipped behind Australia under the new rankings unveiled in November with Kohli questioning the logic behind the rule change.

“Please don’t shift the goal post,” Shastri told a video conference when asked if he found any aspect of the inaugural WTC cycle problematic. “You have got more points than any other team in the world, 360 at that time, and suddenly there’s a percentage system where you go from number one to number three in a week.”

Shastri said it had not been an easy task. “We’ve have had to dig deep. We’ve had to go down every hole that’s needed to find water and we found it. We put ourselves in the final of the World Test Championship, the biggest trophy in the world, with 520 points.”

The ICC had initially announced that the final will be played at Lord’s in June. But the Times of India, citing ICC sources, reported on Saturday that the clash scheduled from June 18 could be moved to a different venue.

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2021

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