LAHORE: The ICC World Test Championship (WTC) 2021-23 cycle was full of thrills and drama as the world’s top teams fought for precious points and an eventual place in the final, the Ultimate Test, over a two-year period. That 57 out of 69 Tests produced results with a mere 12 draws, is testament to the fact that the championship witnessed teams pursuing victories. Australia confirmed their first-ever final when they sealed a nine-wicket victory over India in the third Border-Gavaskar Trophy Test at Indore last month. India secured their second successive Ultimate Test by virtue of a draw in the subsequent fourth and final Test of the series in Ahmedabad coupled with Sri Lanka’s corresponding defeat to New Zealand in one of the most thrilling Tests ever. The first match of that series at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch finished on the last ball on the fifth and final day with the hosts scampering home courtesy a brilliant unbeaten century by former captain Kane Williamson. Australia and India will now compete in a mouth-watering final from 7 June at The Oval. Australia finished the nine-team table with a tally of 152 points and a 66.67 PCT – percentage of points won compared to India’s 127 and a 58.8 PCT. South Africa finished third ahead of a resurgent England who introduced the “Bazball” to Test cricket in the latter half of the 2021-23 cycle, producing a series of astonishing results with their breath-taking strokeplay, all-time high run rates and an all-out aggressive style of play. Sri Lanka’s 2-0 defeat to New Zealand meant a slip to number five for the Asians, New Zealand finished sixth, Pakistan seventh, West Indies (eight) and Bangladesh (ninth). Batting performances and highlights – ICC World Test Championship 2021-23: A total of 68,175 runs were scored in the 69 Tests played in the two-year ICC World Test Championship 2021-23 cycle with the help of 7,563 fours and 579 sixes. Batters from the nine teams amassed a total of 119 centuries with England’s run machine Joe Root topping both the run-getters and centuries tally for the cycle with 1,915 runs at 53.19 (22 matches). The former England captain hit eight centuries with a best of 180 not out. A total of 287 half-centuries were scored in the two-year period. The batters also registered 299 ducks in the two-year championship cycle. Australia opener Usman Khawaja was number two on the run-getters list, the southpaw tallying 1,608 runs at 69.91 in 16 matches with the help of six centuries. Usman’s highest was 195 not out. Pakistan captain Babar Azam also had a dream run in the 2021-23 cycle, the stylish right-hander scoring 1,527 runs at 61.08 in 14 Tests with the help of four centuries and a best of 196 in an epic match saving second innings century at the National Stadium, Karachi against Australia in March 2022. New Zealand opener Tom Latham’s 252 against Bangladesh at Christchurch was the highest individual score of the 2021-23 cycle. England captain Ben Stokes led the “Bazball” mission in style by hitting 28 sixes in the cycle, the most by any batter. The highest partnership in the tournament came in the final match, when Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls added 363 runs for New Zealand’s third wicket against Sri Lanka at Wellington. The highest team total was England’s 657 against Pakistan at Rawalpindi in December 2022, which came in just 101 overs – a scoring rate of 6.50 runs per over. The total of 1,768 runs in that Rawalpindi Test set a new record for any time-limited Test in history. The only two Tests with more runs have been the 1939 Durban and 1930 Kingston timeless Tests. Bangladesh were bowled out for just 53 by South Africa at Durban in March 2022, the lowest total in the competition. India’s Ravindra Jadeja was the only player to score a century and take a five-wicket haul in the same Test. He made an unbeaten 175 and took five for 41 against Sri Lanka at Mohali in March 2022. Bowling performances and highlights – ICC World Test Championship 2021-23: During the 2021-23 cycle 2,241 wickets fell, a total of 127,876 balls were bowled in 69 Tests. Australian off-spinner Nathan Lyon captured 83 wickets at 26.97 in 19 matches with an innings best of eight for 64. The seasoned spinner took five, five-fors and one 10-wicket match haul. South Africa pacer Kagiso Rabada took 67 wickets in 13 Tests at 21.05 with the help of three five-fors. Rabada’s innings best was six for 50. India off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin took 61 wickets in 13 Tests at 19.67, including two five-fors and a best of six for 91 in an innings. New Zealand’s left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel’s innings figures of 10 for 119 and match figures of 14 for 225 for against India at Mumbai in December 2021 were both the best (innings and match figures) in the 2021-23 cycle. A total of 85 five-fors (innings) and ten 10-fors (match) were registered by bowlers from the nine participating sides. Biggest and narrowest wins – ICC World Test Championship 2021-23: There were 12 innings victories in the cycle, with the largest being New Zealand’s victory by an innings and 276 runs over South Africa at Christchurch in February 2022. The narrowest margin of victory in terms of wickets came at Kingston in August 2021 when the West Indies defeated Pakistan by just one wicket. Wicketkeeping and fielding highlights – ICC World Test Championship 2021-23: Australia’s Alex Carey made the most dismissals with 62 in 19 Tests – 60 catches and two stumpings. Next came Joshua da Silva of the West Indies with 57 dismissals (54 catches and three stumpings). Da Silva was helped by being the only keeper to record seven dismissals in an innings, which he achieved in South Africa’s second innings at Centurion in March 2023. The leading keeper in terms of stumpings was remarkably Tom Blundell of New Zealand, a team not normally feted for their spinners. He effected seven stumpings in the cycle. Steve Smith and Joe Root led all fielders with 31 catches each – Smith in 19 Tests and Root in 22 Tests. There were five instances of a fielder taking four catches in an innings, and four instances of fielders taking six catches in a match. Marnus Labuschagne played a part in five run-outs in the field, more than any other fielder.