A comprehensive 3-1 Test series victory over England has confirmed India's spot in the final of the inaugural World Test Championship, where they will meet New Zealand. The WTC final is scheduled between June 18 and 22 at a yet-to-be-named venue in England - the ICC is expected to make the final call soon.
At the start of this Test series, both India and England were in with a shot of making the final. They both needed to win the series, of course, and win it well enough to cross Australia's points percentage of 69.17. From India's point of view, a win by at least a 2-1 margin was good enough.
However, a big 227-run defeat in the series opener in Chennai, played out on a flat pitch, increased the pressure on Virat Kohli's team. It also meant that both Australia and England remained in the fray.
"There was never a question of commitment or whether we are going for a win or not. It did become a distraction for us in New Zealand, but from then on it was just focus on one game at a time and now we are in the final, which we can't wait to be a part of"Virat Kohli
With a win worth 30 points and a draw 10 points, India could not afford to lose another match in the remaining three Tests, and that's exactly what they ensured - wins by 317 runs in the second Tests in Chennai followed by victories by ten wickets and an innings and 25 runs in Ahmedabad gave them a 3-1 margin of victory. And that meant overtaking Australia to the final with 72.2 percentage points, which also helped them top the points table, clear of New Zealand at 70.
Kohli: 'Can't wait to be part of WTC final'
The inaugural cycle of the WTC was devised by the ICC in order to make Test cricket more appealing by providing context to every series played. As per the original schedule, the top nine teams - so no Zimbabwe, Ireland or Afghanistan - would each contest a total of six bilateral series, three at home and three away, with a maximum of 720 points overall at stake. However, the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted that plan, and caused many series to be postponed or cancelled, forcing the ICC to devise a new system where teams would be ranked "in order of percentage of points" earned.
Kohli called the change "confusing" before the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Australia, and this week, on the eve of the final Test in Ahmedabad, he was lukewarm, saying India did not need the extra motivation - of qualifying for the final - to do well, and that it was a "distraction". It's important to remember, though, that India ended up needing to do more to get to the final than most other teams, since they were one of only two teams who weren't affected by cancellations (England are the other team).
Having qualified for the final, though, Kohli was in a more positive mood, saying that he could not wait for the showpiece match. "Now we can accept and admit that we are in the final," Kohli told the host broadcaster. "It was more of a distraction till now for us because we are a side that is very committed to play Test cricket and all these extra things can be a distraction for us.
"There was never a question of commitment or whether we are going for a win or not. It did become a distraction for us in New Zealand, but from then on it was just focus on one game at a time and now we are in the final, which we can't wait to be a part of."
Ashwin: 'To get to the WTC final not a joke'
India's main match-winner, R Ashwin, who won an India-high eighth Player-of-the-Series award for a haul of 32 wickets and one century, echoed the thoughts of team-mate Ishant Sharma, who had said that for a one-format player like him, winning the WTC final would be akin to winning the World Cup final.
Responding to Graeme Swann's query on Saturday about whether beating Australia in Australia was a bigger achievement than winning against England at home, Ashwin said, "Beating Australia in Australia has to be the pinnacle. But with the context of what's happened here, because of the World Test Championship final, we had to win. We had to do what we had to do.
"So getting there is probably a result of what we've been as a team over the last eight-ten years. And an opportunity to get to the World Test Championship final is not a joke. For a lot of players inside the dressing room, who aren't playing white-ball cricket, let's take Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Ishant Sharma, myself for the time being, for all of us the World Test Championship final is as good as the World Cup. So it means a lot to us."
Shastri: 'You've got 520 points, you deserve playing that final'
India won five out of their six series, only losing 2-0 in New Zealand. For Ravi Shastri, reaching the WTC final was a culmination of many years of hard work and preparation.
"To be on top of the table in the World Test Championship is two-and-a-half-years of work," Shastri told the host broadcaster. "And for those two-and-a-half years to be successful, it's been six years prior to that. And, to be honest, the boys just took one series at a time. They weren't really bothered about the World Test Championship.
"Let me be honest here, because the goalpost gets shifted every time. We were heading the table and some rule came on percentage system, when you're not even playing. But never mind all that. You've got 520 points, you deserve to be on top of the table and playing that final."
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo