As New Zealand lifted the mace, becoming the very first World Test Champions, we look at five of the best games of the World Test Championship’s inaugural edition.
5. England v West Indies – 8-12 July 2020 – 1st Test, Rose Bowl, Southampton – West Indies won by 4 wickets
It was the first international cricket game in almost four months. The pandemic had ravaged the world, and the cricket community had just gotten together for the first cricket match in the COVID-era. There were still doubts over the logistics of organising a bilateral series during the pandemic and playing a series in the bio-bubble.
The West Indian cricket board was the first to agree to send their team for an international tour amidst the pandemic, and thus the first test series commenced in a world with COVID. New rules meant no spectators, and both teams were confined to their bio bubble zones, no handshakes, and amongst the other changes, one change in the COVID-cricket world was – no applying saliva on the ball.
The world watched as cricket resumed and two of the games’ greatest teams took on each other. The three-test series began in Southampton with England’s captain Joe Root missing the first test due to the birth of his second child. In his absence it was England’s newest cricket hero Ben Stokes leading them for the very first time. Although neither team had played any form of international cricket in four or more months, England went into the game as slight favourites given the recent form of the visitors coming into the series. The Windies were coming off a series defeat in Sri Lanka just before the pandemic hit.
The first Test, though, got off to a dream start for the visiting team with Shanon Gabriel striking in the second over of the match to knock off Dom Sibley’s off stump with a beauty. Gabriel had set up Sibley beautifully; he took the ball before away from the batter and the next one he got it to come back in just enough to uproot the stumps. Test cricket was truly back.
Gabriel, along with his captain Jason Holder, wrecked havoc and ran through the English line-up, with the hosts being bundled out for 204 in their first innings. Holder finished with 6/42 and Gabriel 4/62.
The Windies managed 318 in reply, with useful contributions from Kraigg Brathwaite (65), Roston Chase (47) and Shane Dowrich (61) to get them a healthy lead of 114. Stand-in captain Ben Stokes impressed with the ball, finishing with 4/49.
England ended Day 3 at 15/0, with the lead being reduced to just under 100. Openers Rory Burns and Dom Sibley laid a solid foundation for the hosts to build on with an impressive 72-run opening stand, and a then career best 76 from Zak Crawley and a quick-fire 46 from Stokes saw England bowled out for 313, leaving the visitors exactly 200 to get on the final day.
All three results were possible heading into the final few sessions on Day 5, but it seemed like the hosts would run away with victory when Jofra Archer made Brathwaite tentatively push at a length ball that crashed onto his stumps. A couple of overs later, Brathwaite’s opening partner was on the receiving end of a searing yorker from Archer that nailed on to his feet and saw John Campbell hobble off. Archer struck again, trapping Shamarh Brooks right in front and Mark Wood cut Shai Hope in half and disturbed his timber that left the West Indies at 27/3. England went into lunch on the final day smelling victory. Windies had to bat out another two sessions and somehow manage the remaining 177 runs if they wanted to win. England needed 7 wickets, or maybe 6, as they weren’t sure about Campbell returning.
Jermaine Blackwood and Roston Chase resumed post lunch with some positivity, although Blackwood rode his luck early on when he was dropped by Stokes at slip and Buttler dropped one down the leg side off Stokes. Blackwood made England pay for their sloppiness on the field and started scoring at a quick rate; it seemed as if the West Indies were going for the win.
But just as Chase and Blackwood began to rebuild the innings, Archer struck once again with an absolute brute of a bouncer that caught out Chase and Windies were 100/4. Shane Dowrich joined Blackwood and the pair saw them through tea, with the score at 143/4. Windies, thanks to Blackwood’s measured innings, were right back in this and this was now there’s to lose.
Blackwood once again started off well at the resumption of play and attacked Mark Wood from the word go. Captain Stokes brought himself on to break the partnership that was threatening to run away with the game and got Dowrich out poking to slips, but Stokes’ joy was short-lived as he saw that he had over-stepped.
Was luck just not on England’s side?
Well, Ben Stokes makes his own luck. He made up for the no-ball the very next delivery as he got one to reverse away and Dowrich nicked it through to Buttler. 168/5, enter Jason Holder – the last known batter. Could England turn this around or would the West Indies perform a miracle?
As his captain joined him in the middle, Blackwood took it upon himself to see the match through and stepped on the pedal. He was nearing a hundred too. What a remarkable century this would be, chasing on the final day to see your team through and end up with a hundred, that’s the stuff of dreams right?
Well, not quite to Blackwood. In an attempt to reach the triple figures and close out the game, Blackwood smashed a full ball from Stokes straight to James Anderson at mid-off. Blackwood had to make the long walk back, departing with a potentially match-winning 95.
But could there be a late twist in the game?
Alas, no. At 189/6, Campbell hobbled back onto the field joining his captain at No.8 and both he and Holder saw off hostile spells from Stokes, Archer and Wood to script a fascinating victory away from home.
The West Indies, who faced so much criticism of late for their quality of red ball cricket, finally registered a remarkable victory in England. It was a shame that there were no fans in the stadium to witness one of the closest and most thrilling games in recent history. But what was important was that cricket was back, and so were the West Indies.
4. England v Australia – 3rd Test August 22-26, 2019, Headingley, Leeds – England won by 1 wicket
The greatest Houdini act in modern sports? It’s hard to argue otherwise. What Ben Stokes did on August 25, 2019, was not only a once-in-a-lifetime innings but it also showcased the spirit of the English cricket team that summer – one that never gave up.
Stokes was already a national hero, having helped his team lift the World Cup a month earlier, and it didn’t seem likely that one could outdo the finish at Lord’s that saw England crowned as world champions. This was probably one of Test cricket’s biggest stages – the Ashes – and the competition did not get any fierce than this.
England at home were hoping to put up a strong show. Things, though, started horribly for them; returning Steve Smith resumed normal service with back-to-back hundreds in the opening test to give the visitors the lead, and the second test saw Smith being substituted and for the first time a concussion substitute was used as Marnus Labuschagne replaced the injured Smith in the second innings. The match ended in a draw, which meant that heading into the Leeds test, England trailed their arch-rivals 1-0 with three matches left.
With Smith ruled out for the third test, England were breathing a little easy as their bowlers had no answer to Smith’s mastery. In the three innings he had played upon his return to Test cricket post the 2018 ball tampering scandal, Smith had registered scores of 144, 142 and 92.
England sent in Australia to bat first, and the decision paid off as Jofra Archer ripped through the Australian batting line up. Barring David Warner (61), Marnus Labuschagne (74) and Tim Paine (11), none of the batters made it to double figures as the visitors were bowled out for 179.
What happened next was even more remarkable. The Australian pace attack of Josh Hazelwood (5/30), Pat Cummins (3/23) and James Pattinson (2/9) ran through the English line-up. With only Joe Denly getting to double figures, the sheer pace and movement extracted from the pitch saw the Australians leave the hosts reeling with their lowest Ashes score since 1948.
With a healthy lead of 112, Australia batted out the second and first session of the third day to post 246. Labuschagne’s 80, along with contributions from Khawaja (23), Matthew Wade (33) and Travis Head (25), saw Australia set a daunting total of 359 for England to level the series. The hosts had two and a half days to get the runs, but given their first-innings batting performance, even batting out one day seemed like a tough ask.
The visitors got the dream start when Josh Hazelwood had Rory Burns fending off a snorter to give Australia their first breakthrough. Cummins followed soon with an absolute stunner to get Burn’s opening partner Jason Roy, leaving England 15/2. It was not a matter of whether Australia would win, it was when they would win, right?
Captain Joe Root and Joe Denly stitched together a gritty and resilient partnership that saw a ray of hope for the English team, but it was once again Hazelwood who made the breakthrough as he got Denly breaking Root and his stand of 126. Even at 141/3, the tide was in Australia’s favour.
In walked Ben Stokes at number 5, joining his captain. A massive 218 runs were still needed with only 7 wickets left. That number lowered by one very soon as Nathan Lyon induced Root into playing a false shot and reduced England to 159/4. Johnny Bairstow gave Stokes able support and the two had a strong stand of 86 before their nemesis Hazelwood once again gave his team a well needed breakthrough.
With Bairstow departing for 36, England were 245/5. They had two recognised batters in Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes to support Stokes in chasing down the target. A horrible mix up with Stokes saw Buttler depart for 1, and Hazelwood kept striking as he got Woakes for 1, leaving England reeling at 261/7. A brief cameo of 15 from Jofra Archer saw Stokes get some reprieve as he went about ticking off at the other end, but he knew he was running out of partners and with the tail-enders, he could not bat out one and a half days.
Archer threw his wicket when he went for an aimless hoick and holed out at deep-square leg. At 286/8, the visitors were two wickets away from retaining the urn. Stuart Broad didn’t waste any of Australia’s time as he departed for a duck and at 286/9, England were on the brink.
A home defeat for the world champions, who had been having such a great summer? This was not a part of the script!
England needed 73, Australia needed one wicket, and the math wasn’t really tough. What happened next was unheard of, unexplainable and nothing short of a miracle.
Stokes played the perfect batting-with-tail-ender innings, keeping Leach away from strike and also keeping the scoreboard running. As he got closer to his century, he took apart Hazelwood for 19 in an over to bring up his century. The celebrations, as you would have guessed, were mute, he knew there was a war to be won and battles weren’t important to him. He continued his charge as he smashed Cummins for back-to-back fours right after Marcus Harris spilled a chance at third man.
Nathan Lyon came on to bowl the 125th over, with the score at 351/9. Australia just needed one ball to ruin all of Stokes’ hard work. Stokes saw out Lyon’s first two deliveries and then launched into him as the smashed a tossed-up delivery straight down the ground for a six. Two runs needed to win, one wicket to lose it all.
The penultimate ball of the over saw Stokes reverse sweep Lyon, but he hit it straight to backward point. England’s no. 11 Jack Leach, who had seen out 14 deliveries, charged down the pitch to get to the other end. But Stokes hadn’t moved, Leach was almost beside Stokes when he turned back, all of Stokes’ heroics came down to one non-existent single. But Lyon failed to gather the throw at the non-striker’s end and Leach somehow managed to get back in.
Were Australia going to choke here? They had done everything right but just couldn’t get over the final hurdle. Lyon tossed one up again, but this time a little straighter, and Stokes went for an almighty slog-sweep. He missed it and was trapped right in front. Umpire Joel Wilson however shook his head, suggesting it would’ve missed leg stump. Australia could have easily over-turned this with a DRS review, but they had none left and that was that. Stokes lived on to fight for another over.
Over 126. England 357/9. Two to win. But it was Leach on strike against Pat Cummins.
Leach somehow managed to get himself out of the way of Cummin’s first two balls and then dabbed the third ball past short leg and scampered through for a single. The scores were level, and Jack Leach had probably scored his most important single of his career. Cummins ran in once again, a length ball on off stump, and Stokes smashed it through covers and completed one of cricket’s greatest Houdini acts.
This man was something else; he never gave up, even when his team crumbled around him and lead his team over the line for an unlikely victory that should have never had taken place.
England were down and out of the game when they got shot out for 67, but this was a team that did not know when to give up and at the heart of it was Ben Stokes – whose innings at Headingley on the 25th of August 2019 will go down in folklore.
3. Australia v India – 1st Test, 17-21 December 2020, Adelaide Oval, Adelaide – Australia won by 8 wickets
The Australian tour starting in late 2020 was the first international for the Indian cricket team post the pandemic. The Indian contingent travelled to Australia for a lengthy tour consisting of three ODIs, three T20Is and four Test matches. After sharing the ODI and T20 series each, with India taking the T20 series 2-1 and Australia beating the visitors in the same margin in ODI series, we were poised for an epic Test series.
And neither team disappointed. Hosts Australia displayed their utter ruthlessness in the first test, which was the day/night match of the series. Mitchell Starc gave the hosts the perfect start when he got Indian opener Prithvi Shaw attempting to drive a length ball and swing it back in to hit the timber. Shaw lasted two balls, and Cheteshwar Pujara walked in to face the music. Although Pujara and Shaw’s opening partner Mayank Agarwal started off slowly, they were just looking to rebuild the innings when Pat Cummins produced an absolute gem to get one to jab back in from outside off that left Agarwal exposed and his timber disturbed. Indian captain Virat Kohli joined Pujara in the middle and both looked at comfortable ease against the Australian attack until Nathan Lyon had Pujara caught at leg gully. Kohli then stitched together another strong stand with Vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, but a horrible mix-up between the two saw Kohli depart for a well-made 74. Rahane didn’t last longer after that either and was beaten for pace by Starc and trapped right in front for a lbw dismissal. The lower order hung around for a while, but Starc and Cummins wrapped up the tail with India managing 244 in their first innings.
The Australian chase struggled throughout their first innings, with Umesh Yadav (3/40) and Ravichandran Ashwin (4/55) being the chief destructors. A gritty 73* from captain Tim Paine and a hard fought 47 from Marnus Labuschagne saw the hosts reach 191.
India had the upper hand going in with a handy lead of 53, but what transpired over the next 21 overs was madness. Pat Cummins ran through the defences of Shaw, while Hazelwood extracted some bounce from the pitch to have Agarwal caught behind. Cummins continued his threatening spell and probably produced the ball of the series when he got a length ball angling into middle and off straighten just a bit that left Pujara no choice but to play at it and end up nicking it to the wicketkeeper Tim Paine behind. Captain Kohli didn’t last long either; he arrived at the pitch with the score at 19/5 and decided to take the attack to the Australians, but ended up slicing a full delivery from Cummins to gully, leaving India 19/6.
The lowest ever Test total of 26 by New Zealand looked not too far away. They had everything going for them – the first-innings lead, the chance to make Australia bat fourth and turn on the pressure – but two spells of madness saw the Indian team implode and fall like a stone.
The lower order couldn’t bail out India either, with Cummins (4/21) and Hazelwood (5/8) wrecking through the Indian line-up. Mohammed Shami took a hit to his forearm, which had him retire and left India 36 all out.
Their lowest ever total in Test match history. Chasing 90 for victory, Australia were looking to make sure they didn’t have any hiccups, and their openers Matthew Wade and Joe Burns made sure they got through without any issues. An opening stand of 70 saw the match all but done, and although Ashwin got Labuschagne cheaply, it was way too late for anything to happen, and Burns and Steve Smith saw their team home.
To humiliate and destroy a batting line-up with modern day greats like Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane needed something special, and the Australian bowlers delivered just that; they set off the series in the perfect way possible for them with a thumping victory over the visitors.
2. Australia v India – 4th Test January 15-19, 2021, The Gabba, Brisbane – India won by 3 wickets
36 all out in the series opener. Your captain Virat Kohli returns home after the first test for the birth of his child, playing no further part in the series. Your strike bowlers, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah have been ruled out of the final test match. KL Rahul, Hanuman Vihari and Ravindra Jadeja also set to miss the final test with injuries. India had two debutants going into the series-deciding fourth and final test, with their bowlers having a combined total of 13 Test wickets. The gap between the two sides couldn’t be any wider; on paper the match was done and dusted even before the toss, but then again matches aren’t decided on paper.
Australia hadn’t lost a test match in 32 years at the Gabba, and they decided to pile on the misery for the hosts and capitalise on the inexperience when they elected to bat first. The Indian bowlers got off to a dream start by dismissing both openers David Warner and Marcus Harris inside the opening 45 minutes. Mohammed Siraj struck in the very first over to remove Warner, while Shardul Thakur struck with his very first delivery in Test cricket to send back Marcus Harris. But a fluent century from Marnus Labuschagne (108), along with handy contributions from Steve Smith (36), Matthew Wade (45), Cameron Green (47) and Tim Paine (50) saw the hosts post a competitive 369 in their first innings. Three wickets apiece for debutants Thakur and T. Natarajan along with Washington Sundar made sure the hosts didn’t cross the 400 barrier.
Although the Indians started their innings off well, with Rohit Sharma getting 44 along with starts for Pujara (25), stand-in captain Rahane (37), and Mayank Agarwal (38), none could convert it into a big score which left India struggling at 186/6. Debutants Sundar and Thakur came together to make sure India reach a respectable first innings total, but the two first-timers did more than that. Both batters came out with positive intent and counterattacked the Australian bowling. The two put together a terrific partnership of 123 which saw Thakur be the aggressor and register a fantastic 67 on debut. His good work, though, was undone by a ripper from Patrick Cummins that nipped back and disturbed the timber. Thakur departed with the score at 309/7. The lower order couldn’t hang around enough to help Sundar overcome the first innings deficit and India were bowled out for a fighting 336, which completely opened up the match.
With a lead of 33, the Australian looked for quick runs to post a challenging fourth-innings target for the Indians. Contributions from Harris (38), Warner (48), Labuschagne (28), Steve Smith (55), Green (37), Tim Paine (27) and Cummins (28) saw Australia put up a daunting 294, which meant the visitors had to chase down 328 with a little over a day’s play left. Chasing down a 300+ total on the final day looked improbable, with the consensus being that India would bat out the day to get the draw.
Cummins started the final day in spectacular fashion when he got Rohit Sharma out cheaply. Pujara then joined the young Shubman Gill who was in his debut series. As Gill counter attacked the Australian, Pujara stood there like a rock with nothing moving him as he put his body on the line to see out hostile spells from the Australians. With Gill attacking and Pujara solid in defence, they seemed to be the perfect pair. As much as Pujara avoided playing attacking shots, his young partner loved the ball coming onto the bat and smashed Mitchell Starc for 20 in the 46th over. Gill ultimately fell for a fluent 91 when he drove a wide delivery from Nathan Lyon and could only manage to edge it to Smith at slip. With Gill departing, India still needed a little under 200 runs with 52 overs left. With Gill gone, the plan looked set – for Pujara and Rahane to see out the overs and take the draw. After all, a draw with the current team would’ve been a moral victory for many.
But that wasn’t what Team India were thinking.
Rahane attacked from the get-go, and his quick-fire 24 ended when he nicked one off Cummins trying to slash one to the boundary. Was this the brave new Team India who were going for the win or was it just daft cricket? It seemed like they were going for the win when they promoted Rishabh Pant over Mayank Agarwal. Pant, along with Pujara, did what he does best and let lose.
But it was calculated madness from the Indian wicket keeper. Although he lost Pujara and Agarwal in quick succession, Pant’s attack had taken India close to victory. When Washington Sundar joined Pant in the middle, the scoreboard read 265/5. Sundar continued his batting heroics from the first innings and took on Pat Cummins, and with both batters going for the win there was hope, but there was also some uneasiness around the fact that if both Pant and Sundar perished trying to attack, it would all amount to nothing.
Sundar, though, looked fearless and continued to attack, which gave Pant some time to recharge his batteries. And by the time Paine brought back the off-spinner, Pant was ready and took 15 from the Nathan Lyon over. With Pant and Sundar’s charge, India were now 24 runs from victory with six overs left in the day. With 10 runs needed, Sundar had a moment of madness when he attempted to reverse-sweep Lyon and edged it onto his stumps, further doubts approached when Thakur was dismissed with India needed a mere 3 runs but with only 3 wickets left. But Pant made sure there were no further hiccups as he smashed Hazelwood to complete a memorable, unlikely and stunning victory.
And not only did they take the victory, the won the series 2-1 too!
A team that had no right to win – seven of their first team players were not available for this match – who had their confidence shattered after getting bowled out for 36, overcame everything that was thrown at them to script one of the greatest victories away from home. Many would have believed that India would’ve played out the final day in search for a draw, but this was a new-look India, which took every chance that was given to them – from Shubman Gill’s early attack that set India up for the win, to Rishabh Pant’s calculated onslaught that saw them through, This was a team that was ready to fight for the world championship.
1. India v New Zealand – June 18-23, 2021 – Final – Rose Bowl, Southampton – New Zealand won by 8 wickets
To cap off our list, we finish with the final of the World Test Championship which showcased the beauty of Test cricket. New Zealand were slight favourites going into the final, with conditions favouring the Kiwis who were already accustomed to the conditions after finishing a two-test series versus England prior to the final. The Indian team was coming off a truncated IPL and long quarantines. With rain looming over the final, the ICC had announced before the start of play that there would be a reserve day in place, should there was any time lost due to rain.
And rain did play spoil sport from the get-go, with the first day’s play getting abandoned due to wet weather. Play resumed on Day 2 with New Zealand putting India to bat first. The Kiwis had gone with an all-pace attack at a venue which supposedly would’ve been conducive to pace and swing. India, though, opted to go with what they announced was their best attack to take 20 wickets, which meant Ashwin and Jadeja were the two spinners assisting the pace trio of Bumrah-Shami-Sharma. The second day started off well for the Indians as openers Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill put together a stand of 62, which also saw them negate the new ball. There was a mini collapse when both Gill and Pujara got out in quick succession, leaving India at 88/3. But Kohli and Rahane rebuilt the innings and finished the day at 146/3. Day 3 saw a delayed start due to a wet outfield, but once play resumed, Kohli’s RCB teammate Kylie Jamieson struck right away, getting Kohli plumb LBW stuck on the crease. Jamieson removed Pant quickly, and Neil Wagner got Rahane out with a short ball set up, which the Indian batter fell for, departing for 49. India’s tail didn’t wag for too long either, although Ashwin and Jadeja tried to get some quick runs. Jamieson wrapped it up quick, finishing with a five-for and bowling India out for 217.
The Kiwis got their first innings off to a solid start, with none of the Indian bowlers even beginning to trouble the openers, putting up a solid stand of 70 for the first wicket. With the quicks not able to get the breakthrough, Kohli turned to Ashwin, who immediately provided the breakthrough by getting Latham for 30. Ishant Sharma got Devon Conway for a well-made 54, but Kiwi captain Kane Williamson and the experienced Ross Taylor saw the day through without any other upsets, ending the third day’s play at 101/2. Downpour on the fourth day got the entire day get washed out. More rain delay meant a late start for Day 5 and the New Zealanders got off the blocks slowly too, along with some excellent bowling from Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and conservative batting from the Kiwis, the Indians made inroads that saw them bundle out the Kiwis for 249, with a slender lead of 32. With 30 overs to see out, India were pegged back when Tim Southee removed both openers cheaply and had India at 51/2. Pujara and Kohli saw off the fifth day, ending it at 64/2, with the Indians 32 runs ahead.
With the reserve day coming into play, all three results were possible going into the final day – an Indian collapse would have seen New Zealand run away with the trophy, but a similar collapse for the Kiwis could have seen India take an unlikely victory, or the Indians could have batted out the day to be crowned as joint-winners with the Kiwis.
The sixth day saw sunshine and the stage was set for a thrilling day of cricket. Virat Kohli’s RCB teammate and first innings’ chief destructor Jamieson wrecked the Indian line-up once again as he struck early in the day sending back both Kohli and Pujara in quick succession. Rahane and Pant then seemed to be rebuilding the innings with some intent, but Rahane threw his wicket away when he got the faintest of nicks on a ball going down the leg. When Jadeja joined Pant, it seemed as if India would bat deep into the day, but Pant had his own plans and although they didn’t come off right from the go one could see his intent. The young wicketkeeper was charging down the wicket to the quick. Pant seemed to be the aggressor with Jadeja playing the anchor role, but Jadeja could only hold out for so long as he was set up by Neil Wagner perfectly, that saw a barrage of short balls followed up by a full one that got the better of the Indian all-rounder. With India at 142/6, Pant upped the ante and perished trying slog one over mid on but top edged it to backward point. The Indian tailenders, who haven’t been the most useful when it comes to contributing to the score, were needed now more than ever, but they were no match for Southee (4/48) and Boult (3/39) who cleaned them up without any trouble. Having been bowled out for 170, the Indians set a target of 139 for the Kiwis with 53 overs left in the day. There was no rain in sight to have saved the Indians and although 139 wasn’t an easy target, the Kiwis backed themselves to get it.
India needed early wickets, and once again it was Ashwin who provided the breakthrough by getting Tom Latham stumped cheaply. Ashwin struck again, getting Latham’s opening partner Conway out plumb in front. With the score at 44/2, one wondered if Ashwin had opened up a path to victory for the Indians, but it would not be that easy. Kane Williamson was joined by Ross Taylor, and if the Kiwis wanted two batters to see out this total, they would have wanted these two, the most experienced players in their squad. Both Williamson and Taylor saw off the Indian attack and kept the scoreboard ticking. As they got closer to the target, Taylor and Williamson upped the ante and started finding gaps with relative ease. In the end, a 52* from Williamson and 47* from Taylor was enough to see the Kiwis home and be crowned the World Test Champions.
If any team deserved to win this trophy, it was them. They have been one of the most consistent teams in the recent years, and having been hard done in the ODI World Cup final two years ago, this was the perfect way to make up for the defeat.