India kicked off their World Test Championship campaign with a win away against West Indies, which now looks like a distant past. Barring the rare blip against the side that they are going to face in the final - New Zealand - India remained unbeaten in every other series.
Finish on WTC table - 1st (520 points)
Series wins - 2-0 against WI (A), 3-0 against SA (H), 2-0 against BAN (H), 2-1 against AUS (A), 3-1 against ENG (H)
Series losses - 0-2 against NZ (A)
At no point during their first three series - against West Indies, South Africa and Bangladesh - was the Indian team, led by Virat Kohli, looking timid. In fact, they were strong, putting on valiant performances away from home against West Indies before returning home. At home, the bowling unit combined with the performances of the top-order batsmen, Rohit Sharma and Mayank Agarwal, led the hosts to emphatic victories, over South Africa and later Bangladesh.
Then came the low, the one that berated and left them in an all-time low - New Zealand. If there was one series that India would happily forget in the last three years, it would be this tour, where nothing clicked for them - from batting to bowling to fielding. While New Zealand unearthed Kyle Jamieson, India ensured that Jamieson had a happy welcome to international cricket. A 2-0 drubbing, India came back hurting.
But that hurting led to the selectors being more considerate in their selection, with a host of debutants against Australia, in a series that defined India’s World Test Championship run to the final. As many would call it - the virtue of patience, courage and temperament combined with a domestic feeder system that overflows talent. A 36 debacle was well settled with a 32-year-history being broken at the Gabba, ending Australia’s last-straw hopes of qualifying to the tournament’s final.
When India lost their first Test at home, against England, the qualification was still on the line, with the Australian cricketers crossing their fingers in expectation. But a breeze in the next three Tests not just dashed Australia’s hopes but also put an end to all speculations of missing out on a final appearance but this time, against New Zealand.
Most Runs - Ajinkya Rahane - 1095 runs @43.80
When the team is in deep trouble, when the waters are troubled, when the boat is sinking, there is always the one figure saving the entire crew - Ajinkya Rahane. Over the last two years, there have been consistent criticisms from all corners regarding the form of the Indian vice-captain Rahane but every time the criticisms have increased their volume, Rahane has just remoted them back to mute. Since the start of the competition, the Indian vice-captain has scored three centuries and two half-centuries, all while averaging 43.80, two more than his career average of 41.28. Not just that, his three centuries have come at an opportune time for the Indian team - in West Indies, against South Africa and in Australia - where the team was in jitters.
In North Sound, Rahane walked in the first innings at 3/25 and ensured that his 81 in the first innings helped India to a sound score of 297. In the second innings, combining with Hanuma Vihari, Rahane scored a century, to lead the charge for India, as they won the Test by 318 runs after being put at the cusp of a resounding defeat. At 3/39, in Ranchi, his 115, combined with Rohit Sharma’s double-century was yet again the differentiating factor for the hosts.
To top it all off, in Australia, after a terrible defeat in Adelaide, Rahane responded in prime fashion, scoring a 112 in Melbourne which helped India to the simplest of wins - an eight-wicket victory over the hosts - Australia.
Most Wickets - Ravichandran Ashwin - 67 wickets @20.88
Like Rahane, Ravichandran Ashwin’s inclusion, away from home, was always met with a loud round of discourse. The 'Can he' and 'will he' cries were in plenty but every time those questions were raised, Ashwin always had the answers ready! After being ignored for the series against West Indies, the off-spinner’s first appearance came at home, against South Africa, in Visakhapatnam. He picked up just seven wickets in the first innings, just seven, as the expectations were golden-high from the off-spinner.
Several Tests down the line, the doubts once again were there before the start of the away leg - New Zealand and Australia. In New Zealand, Ashwin played his only game in Wellington, where he picked up a three-fer in the first innings. But in Australia, he put the doubts and the doubters ten feet down the ground, with 12 wickets against his name, several Steve Smith dismissals too. In fact, he was only behind Mohammed Siraj in the list of most wickets Down Under, showcasing his worth and value as a spinner.
When England came to India, there were just expectations of carnage and as it turned out, a five-wicket haul in every Test, barring the third one in Ahmedabad set his record apart. An insane amount of wickets (32) to be precise, for the off-spinner, who took his tally to 67. If you were wondering, he is just four away from becoming the top wicket-taker in the World Test Championship, so that should really remove doubt out of the equation?