The WTC cycle of 2021-23 will culminate with the final between India and Australia at The Oval in London starting Wednesday, June 7. Both teams will be fighting for their maiden WTC mace, with New Zealand clinching the inaugural one at The Rose Bowl in Southampton in 2021.
India have had a good run in the ongoing WTC cycle. Having won their three home series against New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Australia, they drew in England and defeated Bangladesh away from home, even as they failed to capitalize on a series lead in South Africa and ended up losing.
Their bowlers have had a massive say in getting them to the summit clash. Yet, it goes without saying that their batters have played crucial roles themselves, even if the numbers don't really paint a very bright picture for the entire lot.
Ahead of the final against Australia, we look at the three best knocks by an Indian in this WTC cycle:
#5 Axar Patel - 74 vs Australia in Delhi, 2023
You can only imagine what the outcome of the most recent Border-Gavaskar Trophy series would have been like had it not been for this knock from Axar Patel in the 2nd Test at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in Delhi.
On a pitch that turned from the very first session, Australia's first-innings total of 263 was proving to be too many for India, who were tottering at 139/7. Nathan Lyon, Todd Murphy and Matthew Kuhnemann were proving to be difficult to tackle.
It was then that Axar was joined by Ravichandran Ashwin, with the duo stitching together a 114-run partnership to ensure India came within one run of taking the lead. Axar's pristine 74 off 115 deliveries made batting look far easier than it was on a turning track and showed the template as to how the frontline batters ought to have approached things.
A shocking Australian collapse in the second innings saw them succumb to a loss, but an Indian victory would have been a distant dream had it not been for a masterful knock under pressure by Axar.
#4 Shreyas Iyer - 92 vs Sri Lanka in Bengaluru, 2022
A raging turner greeted India and Sri Lanka at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru after the hosts romped home without breaking a sweat in the first Test in Mohali. With this game being a day-night affair, the pink ball made life all the more difficult for the batters, and it reflected with the hosts struggling at 86/4.
Shreyas Iyer joined Rishabh Pant in the middle as the duo went about an excellent counter-attack. Despite the latter's dismissal, Iyer was at his absolute best as he showed just why he is one of the finest players of spin in the country at present.
Falling a mere eight runs shy of a superb century, his 98-ball 92 saw India post 252 before Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami took over to rip the Sri Lankan top order apart under lights.
Iyer was at it again in the second innings as he combined forces with Pant for yet another counter-punch and struck an 87-ball 67. The result was beyond doubt thereafter as India romped home by 238 runs, with Iyer walking away with the Player of the Match honors.
#3 KL Rahul - 129 vs England at Lord's, 2021
The iconic Lord's Test of 2021 is remembered for Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah's incredible ninth-wicket partnership in the second innings, as well as Mohammed Siraj's fiery burst across the contest. But it was KL Rahul who set things up with a stellar hundred on the opening day to put the visitors on course for a historic win.
Having made a superb comeback to the Test team with a solid 84 at Trent Bridge, Rahul picked up from where he left off. Alongside Rohit Sharma, he rendered England's decision to field first after a delayed start moot as he showed outstanding judgement outside the off stump while dispatching anything that was overpitched to the fence.
Rahuk cruised along to put his name on the prestigious Honours Board, crafting a masterful 129 off 250 deliveries that saw him bag the Player of the Match award as India picked up their first win of the WTC cycle for 2021-23. It was one of the finest comebacks made by an Indian opener in Tests, particularly in conditions that had once proven to be his Achilles heel.
#2 Rohit Sharma - 127 vs England at The Oval, 2021
For long, Rohit Sharma's Test career had been a stop-start one, having failed to nail down a permanent spot for himself in the middle order. There was no looking back for him once he moved up to open the innings in 2019, though, and it hit a crescendo during the Oval Test against England in 2021.
After India conceded a lead of 89 in the first innings, Rohit took charge and dug in for the long haul in the second. He stitched critical partnerships, first with Rahul and then with Cheteshwar Pujara, as he kept a quality pace attack including James Anderson, Ollie Robinson, Chris Woakes and Craig Overton at bay.
Rohit completed his first overseas century in Tests with a huge six off Moeen Ali and truly announced his peak in the format. His stellar hundred saw India set the hosts a target of 368, which proved to be tough to overhaul even in good batting conditions. An inspired bowling performance saw the visitors coast to a 2-1 series lead.
#1 Rishabh Pant - 100* vs South Africa in Cape Town, 2022
With a one-man show which gave India a slender glimmer of hope, Rishabh Pant proved his detractors wrong in sensational fashion in the third Test against South Africa at the Newlands Stadium in Cape Town in early 2022.
Having copped a lot of criticism for throwing his wicket away in the second Test in Johannesburg, Pant scored a 50-ball 27 in the first innings before having support only in the form of skipper Virat Kohli in the second essay. Apart from Kohli and Rahul, no batter even reached double-figures as Pant went about a clinical counter-attack which he has become synonymous with in Tests.
Studded with six fours and four maximums, Pant's stunning unbeaten 100 was a sight to behold even as wickets fell around him like nine pins. It was truly one of the finest knocks played by an Indian in the SENA nations to have not ended on the winning side as South Africa coasted to a seven-wicket victory.
This knock, and so many others that the wicket-keeper batter has played over the years, is a massive indicator of what India will dearly miss in the WTC final against Australia.
Which knock according to you was the best played by an Indian batter in the WTC cycle of 2021-23? Have your say in the comments section below!
Poll : Can India cope with Rishabh Pant's absence in the WTC final against Australia?