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Feature

How Australia made it to their first World Test Championship final

Series wins over England, Pakistan, West Indies and South Africa have paved the way

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
04-Mar-2023
Travis Head is congratulated by stand-in captain Steven Smith, India vs Australia, 3rd Test, Indore, 3rd day, March 3, 2023

Travis Head has starred in several of Australia's triumphs in the lead up to the WTC final  •  Getty Images

After missing out due to over-rate penalties last time, Australia have secured their spot in the World Test Championship final at The Oval in June with a match to spare. Here's a look back on how their campaign came together with home dominance and vital away wins
Mitchell Starc's first ball to Rory Burns set the tone for the match and the series in Pat Cummins' first Test as captain. With England threatening a comeback with the ball, Travis Head carved a scintillating 152 from 148 balls. Nathan Lyon's 400th Test wicket then broke England's second innings open and the rest followed swiftly.
Cummins' enforced Covid absence and an injury to Josh Hazlewood did not knock Australia off course. Marnus Labuschagne rode his much talked-about luck with a century while stand-in captain Steven Smith and David Warner just missed out. England folded from 150 for 2 against Starc and Lyon and in the second innings Jhye Richardson claimed a maiden five-wicket haul amid some late resistance.
"Build the man a statue!" On a heady third morning, this became Scott Boland's Test as he blew England away with an astonishing 6 for 7. Australia's win, though, was set-up late on the second evening in one of more high-octane sessions you could witness. Until then England had just about stayed in the game, but Marcus Harris' 76 was a fine effort on a tough pitch.
The first points dropped by Australia as James Anderson batted out the final over against Smith in fading light. The highlight of the match was Usman Khawaja's remarkable return to Test cricket with twin hundreds but England did well not to fold after being 36 for 4 in the first innings.
Another counterattacking hundred from Head led Australia's fightback after they had wobbled in seamer-friendly conditions. Although bowled out for 155 in their second innings and England being 68 for 0 chasing 271 the game ended in a hurry as the visitors lost 10 for 56 in 22 overs.
An historic but ultimately forgettable occasion as Australia returned to Pakistan for the first time since 1998. The pitch offered nothing and batters on both sides prospered, albeit Australia's top order missed out on hundreds.
A golden opportunity slipped away for Australia when they had secured a huge lead after another hundred from Khawaja and some skilful fast bowling. Declining to enforce the follow, Pakistan still needed to survive two days. Babar Azam produced one of the great rearguards with 196 from 425 balls while Mohammad Rizwan also made a hundred but Australia dropped crucial chances.
This time they didn't let it slip. Australia were 8 for 2 in the third over but after a vital stand between Cameron Green and Alex Carey, a reverse swing masterclass from Cummins and Starc blew the game open. Cummins dangled the carrot, leaving a target of 351 in four sessions and Pakistan were 77 for 0 early on the final day. But Australia managed to chip away with Lyon take five and Cummins again magnificent.
A game played in fast-forward on a pitch that offered a huge amount for the spinners. Khawaja, Green and Carey played the crucial hands to secure a hefty lead. Sri Lanka crumbled in dramatic style, all out in less than 23 overs with Head taking 4 for 10 and Lyon a match haul of nine wickets.
Amid the extraordinary scenes of the anti-government protests around the ground, Australia let a strong position slip away. Labuschagne, stumped shortly after his hundred, and Carey reverse sweeping into the deep were key moments. In reply, on a more sedate surface, Dinesh Chandimal forged a magnificent double century. This time it was Australia's turn to fold, losing all 10 wickets in 27 overs as Prabath Jayasuriya enjoyed a remarkable debut with 12 wickets.
A predictably efficient victory for Australia. Labuschagne and Smith racked up double centuries and Head chopped on for 99. West Indies made them work for their success with the ball, especially Kraigg Brathwaite's second-innings hundred, but the result was never in doubt despite an injury to Cummins. Lyon took 6 for 128 to help fill the void.
Ruthless from Australia. Woeful from West Indies, albeit with a hefty injury list. Centuries for Labuschagne and Head set the game up and the bowlers went about their work in systematic style. The game hurried to a finish with Boland taking three wickets in over and West Indies skittled for 77 early on the fourth day.
A Test dominated by some ferocious fast bowling, it was over in less than two days. Head played the game's defining innings with a brilliant 92 off 96 balls before South Africa were bundled out for 99 in their second innings. The chase of 34 was a bizarre, brutal affair on a pitch later rated "below average".
A superb all-round performance from Australia, although they paid a heavy price. Green had a breakthrough moment with a maiden five-wicket haul only to suffer a broken finger - although returned to make a gutsy fifty - and Starc also picked up a finger injury. Warner stood tall in his 100th Test amid talk about his form with a herculean double hundred in energy-sapping heat and Carey sped to a maiden century.
Rain probably denied Australia the win that would have secured the WTC final before visiting India. Khawaja was left stranded on 195 when the lost time forced Cummins to declare. They were able to enforce the follow-on during the final day, but South Africa's lower order had taken enough overs out of the game.
Rohit Sharma's hundred and India's lower order put Australia's first-innings 177 into context on a tricky but not impossible surface. They were then overwhelmed by India's lead and subsided to 91 all out on the third day. R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, on his return to Test cricket, took 15 wickets between them.
A crazy morning session on day three, where Australia lost 8 for 28, decided this game after they had been in a strong position. They had been in line for a big first-innings lead but Axar Patel's 74 closed the gap to just one run. Jadeja carved through the second innings with seven wickets to take 10 in the game.
A remarkable bounce back in a game that barely reached the third day. Matt Kuhnemann, not originally on the tour, took 5 for 16 as India crumbled for 109. Khawaja produced one of his more important innings although Australia still lost 6 for 11. But then Lyon cut through the home side with an eight-wicket haul and the chase was less fraught than it might have been.
After three high-octane Tests, the pitch was the winner this time. Green's maiden Test century was the highlight for Australia, along with another hundred for Khawaja, but they were left with only the draw to play for after India past them courtesy of Virat Kohli's 186 and Shubman Gill's graceful hundred.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo