The match was over in two overs on the fourth day, inside 10 minutes. South Africa resumed at 132/8 and folded for 133 all out, as India won by an innings and 202 runs to secure a 3-0 clean sweep. Shahbaz Nadeem took the last two wickets off consecutive deliveries and would be on a hat-trick in his next Test. In the Indian dressing room, MS Dhoni dropped in to congratulate the team.
A 2-0 series win in the West Indies followed by a 3-0 hiding of the Proteas at home… With every series in the World Test Championship being allotted 120 points, India now have 240 in their bag. Their nearest rivals, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, are on 60 points each, while Australia and England have 56 apiece. Four teams — West Indies, South Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh — are yet to open their account.
Yes, the competition is still at its nascent stage and the final at Lord’s, involving the top two teams, would be played in June 2021. But after just two series, India’s position already appears almost insurmountable.
The World Test Championship’s schedule is bereft of balance. For example, India’s next series in the competition begins next month; two home Tests against Bangladesh. So, by November end, India are likely to add another 120 points to their tally. The gulf in class between the two Test teams makes the upcoming series a virtual no-contest.
India’s first real test may come in February-March next year, when they travel to New Zealand for a two-Test series. Another 120 points would be on offer and theoretically, India can extend their lead even further. Compare this with West Indies… After playing two matches against India at home and losing both, their next assignment in the World Test Championship is in June next year – a three-match series in England. So till then, the Caribbeans stay rooted on nought. The scheduling imbalance can seriously hurt them.
Sri Lanka hosted the Kiwis in August for a two-Test series that ended in a 1-1 stalemate. But they, too, face a lull at least till August 2020. The ICC has released the World Test Championship fixture till August next year and during this period, India are playing four series, England, New Zealand and Australia are playing three each, South Africa, Pakistan and West Indies are featuring in two series each, while Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are playing one apiece.
Australia are hosting Pakistan next month and then New Zealand in December-January. South Africa would host England in January, while England have back-to-back home series against West Indies and Pakistan from June to August next year.
The itinerary for the next season, from September 2020 to March 2021, will balance the books, because under the World Test Championship, each of the nine teams will play three series at home and three away. As for India, the roster includes two marquee series, both during the 2020-21 season – four Tests in Australia and five home Tests against England. But given the headstart they have, Virat Kohli and company will have to choke badly to finish outside the top two. On current form, it appears almost unthinkable.
A lopsided itinerary
A lopsided itinerary, however, cannot take anything away from India’s dominance. Their decimation of the Saffers was as ruthless as it was clinical. Batting, fast bowling, spin and fielding — the team ticked all the boxes.
Little wonder then that Kohli described the team’s performance in this series as perfect. “I think so. We have had good series in the past as well but I would say this is at par with the most balanced performances we have had in the past. As a team, you can’t ask for anything more. Batsmen getting runs, spinners and fast bowlers getting wickets, Saha coming back and ‘keeping the way he does,” the India captain said after the match on Tuesday.
Back-up players stood to be counted. Umesh Yadav came in for the injured Jasprit Bumrah and bowled with such venom that Kohli rated his partnership with Mohammed Shami as arguably the best for a fast bowling pair in Indian conditions. “If you look at these two guys, their strike rate is probably the best in Indian conditions in history.”
Spare a thought for Nadeem, who was drafted into the squad on match eve, when Kuldeep Yadav suffered a shoulder injury. The left-arm spinner from Jharkhand took to Test cricket like a duck to water. He walked into a team culture that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Kohli isn’t looking into the distant future, the World Test Championship final to be precise. But the skipper knows if his team carries on with the process, the goal will be achieved.
“We will always be put under pressure and make mistakes. At the end of the day, we are 11 guys who can be vulnerable. But what is important is that we keep a strong check on wanting to learn from the mistakes. We don’t let anyone slide things under the carpet,” Kohli said.
Coming back to the World Test Championship, its point system is flawed – 120 points for each series means 60 points per win in a two-Test series, while only 24 points for a win in a five-match series. Four and five-Test series are played between heavyweights but the ICC mandarins failed to put things in perspective. Only recently, Kohli had said points for an away Test win should have been doubled. Maybe, the game’s governing body will fix the ‘bugs’ in the next cycle. For the moment, India already have the Lord’s final in sight, cricket’s glorious uncertainties notwithstanding.