It took a scrambled single – and DLR verdict – in Christchurch before we finally knew who would battle it out in the World Test Championship Final at The Oval in June.
New Zealand’s thrilling victory by two wickets off the last ball ensured that Sri Lanka’s remaining hopes of reaching the showpiece were dashed, leaving Australia and India to re-join battle.
They have just fought out an edgy contest over four Tests, Rohit Sharma’s men winning 2-1 to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, already plotting for the next chapter during England’s summer. It was ironic that the Kiwis, who beat India in the inaugural WTC final two years ago at the Ageas Bowl, should hold the key to their rivals’ chances this time.
Both Australia and India will feel at home when they arrive in Kennington for the match which starts on June 7 and can go up to six days, the first Test to be played at The Oval which has not involved England.
Australia’s connection with the ground is integral to cricket history. They were England’s opponents when the first Test in this country was played in 1880 – losing by five wickets – but when they avenged that defeat two years later, by just seven runs, it spawned the legend of The Ashes.
Don Bradman’s final Test in 1948, Len Hutton’s England side recapturing The Ashes five years later and Kevin Pietersen’s scintillating Ashes-securing century in 2005 are just two of the highlights of their visits. India too have every reason to regard the ground fondly. Their first win in England came there in 1971 and, in the immediate past, they celebrated Test success in 2021 and an overwhelming ODI victory last year.
The two countries may not have done battle at Test level at The Oval but they have met twice in World Cups.
It first happened in 1999, both teams having stuttered into the super six stage, and Australia began to show the form which would take them to victory in the final.
Sent in by India, they were given an ideal platform of 97 by openers Mark Waugh – timing the ball exquisitely in his 83 – and Adam Gilchrist (31), skipper Steve Waugh’s 36 the next best in a total of 282-6 from their 50 overs. His side looked certain victors once Glenn McGrath, benefiting from a fuller length than his opponents, terminated Sachin Tendulkar’s run of three successive centuries by having him caught behind for a fourth ball duck. He snared Rahul Dravid (2) in similar style and, after Damien Fleming had bowled Saurav Ganguly (8), added Mohammed Azharruddin (3).
That left India reeling at 17-4, a fourth wicket stand of 146 in 31 overs between Ajay Jadeja (100no) and Robin Singh (75) changing the momentum. But once they were separated, the rest of the batting crumbled to 205 all out, McGrath’s 3-34 augmented by two wickets for Fleming and Steve Waugh.
It took two decades for India to gain revenge, choosing to bat first when the sides met in the 2019 tournament.
They took charge immediately, Shikhar Dhawan’s 117 – despite being hit on the hand by paceman Pat Cummins – seeing him dominate an opening stand worth 127 with Rohit Sharma (57). Virat Kohli’s 82, his 50th half-century in ODIs, came off just 77 balls before Hardik Pandya crashed 48 from 27 balls. That raised his side to 352-5, the highest World Cup conceded by Australia, but it did not guarantee victory against a strong line-up.
Hard-hitting pair David Warner (56) and Aaron Finch (36) took 61 off the first 13 overs, Steve Smith (69) soon finding his touch. At 202-2 in the 37th over, Australia were still in the fight but three wickets each for Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah worked through the order so that Alex Carey’s 55no from 35 balls could only extend the fight to 316 all out from the final ball of the match.
Four years later and a different format altogether, history will have little relevance but a high class contest should be in order and Australia will be hoping to win the title as the opening course of a summer which will see them back at The Oval at the end of July for the final Ashes Test.