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World Test Championship

The Ultimate Test Series winner: The unforgettable 2020/21 Border-Gavaskar Trophy

The Ultimate Test Series

The big day has finally arrived - we can officially crown 2020/21's Border-Gavaskar Trophy as The Ultimate Test Series.

                                               ***

Just under two weeks ago we started on our journey to crown the Ultimate Test Series ahead of this month's ICC World Test Championship Final. 

We whittled it down to a shortlist of 16 and from there we let you take over. Across 15 head-to-heads, over seven million votes were cast as the 16 series were knocked out one by one until there was only one left standing - the 2020/21 Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

An instant classic, the 2020/21 Border-Gavaskar Trophy was taken out 1-2 by an India side that increasingly found themselves having to dig further into their resources.

Now, let's look back on The Ultimate Test Series.

                                              ***

India arrived in Australia in late 2020 with the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in their possession after their historic victory in 2017/18. However, that series win had come against an Australian team without its two biggest batting stars – Steve Smith and David Warner.

The 2020/21 edition was about proving they could beat Australia no matter who they had available. As things turned out, it wasn’t just about who Australia had available but who India wouldn’t as the series went on.

Before a ball had been bowled they lost pace veteran Ishant Sharma to injury, while opening batsman Rohit Sharma (hamstring) was ruled out of the opening two matches. They would also be without captain Virat Kohli for the final three Tests, with the skipper returning home for the birth of his first child.

By the end of the series they would be playing without Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Hanuma Vihari, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav.

Each of them would have their moments in the sun in Australia before the unlikeliest of heroes got the job done in the unlikeliest of venues.

First Test, Adelaide Oval
Australia win by eight wickets
POTM: Tim Paine

Facing each other in a day-night Test for the first time at Adelaide Oval, the curtain-raiser would have been the most memorable clash of most other series.

Electing to bat first, India looked on course for a significant first innings total, having marched to 188/3, with captain Virat Kohli looking in supreme touch on 74. Instead, they’d be bowled out for 244 early on day two, losing seven for 56 after Kohli was run out in a mix-up with Ajinkya Rahane.

Nevertheless, with Ravichandran Ashwin leading the way with a four-wicket haul, they took control of the match by bowling Australia out for 191 in their first innings. It was actually a total they should have kept them well below, with Marnus Labuschagne (47) and Tim Paine (73*) both enjoying multiple lives, and the Australians recovering from 139/8.

Starting day three at 7/1, with a lead of 60, the Indians were expected to spend the next day and a half building a big target before sending Australia out to bat against a new ball under lights.

Instead, the seeds of a comeback that had been sown by Paine's half-century blossomed into one of the most memorable sessions Test cricket has ever seen. Off the back of Josh Hazlewood’s unforgettable spell of 5/8 India were rolled for 36 before the first session of the day was over. To make matters worse for India, pace spearhead Mohammed Shami suffered a broken arm during the innings.

Chasing a target of 93, the Australians made light work of it from there, winning by eight wickets.

Unplayable at Adelaide Oval.
Unplayable at Adelaide Oval.


Second Test, MCG
India win by eight wickets
POTM: Ajinkya Rahane

With Kohli returning home for the birth of his first child following the Adelaide Oval Test and Shami suffering a series-ending injury, few if any gave India much chance of bouncing back at the MCG. But under the captaincy of Rahane, the Indians roared back in the Boxing Day Test.

Stepping up in the absence of Shami, Jasprit Bumrah took four wickets and the in-form Ashwin picked up another three – including Steve Smith for a rare duck – as the touring team bowled the hosts out for 195 after losing the toss.

In India’s first innings, Rahane led the way, scoring a brilliant 112 off 223 in a total of 326, with debutant Shubman Gill (45) and Ravindra Jadeja (57) both impressing. Such was the quality of Rahane's performance that Australian great Shane Warne hailed it 

Another quality performance from the attack from there set up a simple chase of 70 for the Indians and suddenly the series was tied at 1-1.

The victory did come at a cost, however, with Umesh Yadav suffering a series-ending injury. That left India without the services of three frontline quicks, following Shami's broken arm at Adelai and Ishant Sharma's IPL injury.

A captain's ton from Ajinkya Rahane.
A captain's ton from Ajinkya Rahane.


Third Test, SCG
Draw
POTM: Steve Smith

At Adelaide and Melbourne, India had managed what few in cricket have in the past decade. They had kept Smith quiet.

At the SCG, Smith returned to form with a vengeance, scoring his first century since the 2019 Ashes – a brilliant 131 of 226 that was only ended by a direct hit from Jadeja as he looked to pick up bonus runs at the end of Australia’s innings.

In their most convincing innings of the series to date, the Australians had put up a total of 338, with key contributions from Marnus Labuschagne (91) and debutant Will Pucovski (62).

India only managed 244 in reply and by the time Australia finished their second innings the tourists required 407 runs to win with the better part of four sessions to survive.

With India 98/2 going into day five, all four results were still on the cards but when Nathan Lyon removed Rahane early an Australian victory seemed inevitable. However, on the back of a rapid 97 from Rishabh Pant and a patient 77 from Pujara, the Indians managed to open up the possibility of victory.

When both men fell before the final session, the match was back in Australia’s court. With Jadeja nursing a broken thumb but padded up on the team balcony, the Australians knew they were only one wicket away from exposing a vulnerable Indian tail. To make matters worse for India, the two men in were both battling injuries themselves, with Hanuma Vihari pinging a hamstring and Ashwin his back.

Somehow, someway they held solid to force the draw.

A return to form for Steve Smith.
A return to form for Steve Smith.


Fourth Test
India win by three wickets
POTM: Rishabh Pant

The heroic effort at the SCG came at a serious toll for India. Vihari, Ashwin, Jadeja and Bumrah were all ruled out of the Gabba encounter, as was squad member KL Rahul.

Australia meanwhile was heading to a ground where it had not tasted defeat in 32 years. Suffice to say, the odds were against India in the series decider.

In the Indian line-up, Mohammed Siraj was the senior member of the attack and was playing just his third Test after debuting at the MCG. The next most experienced member was Navdeep Saini, who had debuted at the SCG in the last game. Shardul Thakur was also playing his second Test, but may as well have been debuting having suffered an injury just 10 balls into his first match in 2018. Alongside them were debutants Washington Sundar and T Natarajan.

Things were looking grim for the Indians t 186/6 in their first innings reply to Australia’s total of 369, only for debutant Sundar – picked for his off-spin – and second-matcher Thakur to both score half-centuries to drag them to 336 and keep them in the match.

A five-wicket haul from Mohammed Siraj and four wickets from Thakur then saw Australia bowled out for 294 and India went into day five chasing 328 to win.

Their hopes were rocked when Rohit Sharma fell for seven, but with Gill (91) attacking from one end and Pujara (56) defending from the other, all four results remained a possibility. Going into the final session of the series, India needed 145 runs to win and Australia still needed seven more wickets.

The advent of the second new ball paid immediate dividends for Australia as Cummins removed Pujara and then six overs later Mayank Agarwal. However, with Pant in, the runs were flowing quickly.

One of the heroes at the SCG, Pant stepped up to take India home in the company of the tail, scoring an unbeaten 89 and finishing the match and the series with a glorious drive to long-off in the final hour of the final day of an enthralling campaign.

Rishabh Pant was one of the heroes of the Gabba Test.
Rishabh Pant was one of the heroes of the Gabba Test.



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