Two deserving teams. One World Test Championship Final. The countdown has begun. In less than a week’s time, India and Australia are set to lock horns for the prestigious Test mace at the iconic Oval Cricket Ground in London. While this will be India’s second such appearance, it will be the first time for their rivals from Down Under. Ravichandran Ashwin, who recently achieved the landmark milestone of 450 Test wickets, features in the Team India squad. Alongside him will be another Royal face for the very first time, Yashasvi Jaiswal, who has been added as a stand-by player after a record-breaking domestic season and an equally scintillating IPL 2023.

India and Australia share a history of cricketing rivalry, whether it’s their heated encounters in World Cups, the famous CB Series face-offs, or the intense battles in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy that have seen generations of cricketers fight it out to break down their own ‘final frontiers’. As much as the on-field competition has spurred players to bring out their competitive best, the two nations have shared a camaraderie off it thanks to the healthy cricketing ties and their shared love for the game. This relationship was strengthened even further with the advent of the Indian Premier League back in 2008 when Shane Warne led Rajasthan Royals to become the first-ever IPL champions.

Warnie, an Aussie superstar, was already an idol among Indian cricket fans who grew up watching him weave his leg spin magic all around the world. To watch him lead an ‘underdog’ team full of young and upcoming Indian cricketers was a dream come true for many. To then see him lift the trophy in a historic first was the cherry on top. Not only did he captain the team to an unimaginable victory, but also laid the foundation for young Indian talent to perform on the big stage, a legacy that we at the Royals continue to build on to date. His contribution to the IPL’s widespread reach was immeasurable. From identifying hidden talent, to turning rookies into match-winners, to nicknaming Ravindra Jadeja ‘rockstar’, he did it all.

Warne’s affinity towards India and its people increased even after his playing days when he would come back as a broadcaster to enthral cricket viewers on television. His association with the Royals continued for seasons, where he would visit the training sessions and spend time with players sharing his experiences and insights. As a visionary who saw immense potential in the youth of this country, he remained forever invested in the growth and development of cricketers at the highest level. First, as a cricketer and a worthy opponent, later as an IPL captain and coach fused into one, and finally as a commentator, Warne continued to win hearts on and off the field with this charisma.

It was only natural then that the whole of India felt deeply shocked and saddened by his sudden passing last year.

“Last year when Shane Warne died, hundreds of Indians were also mourning. We felt like we have lost someone very close to us,” Honourable Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, had said while paying a heartfelt tribute to Warne on his recent visit to Australia.

Truer words weren’t spoken. As someone who was universally loved, Warne was the bridge between these two rival cricketing nations, who shared an immense passion for the sport and its cricketers. During the IPL last year, Warne’s family and close friends travelled to India and were in attendance for the game against Mumbai Indians at the DY Patil Stadium, which we had dedicated to him and his memory. It was heartening to see the entire stadium pay their homage to one of the biggest legends of the game, and the players come together in a minute’s applause before the start of play. A few days later, Warne’s brother Jason was hosted by BCCI Secretary Jay Shah in Ahmedabad, where the two spoke about the IPL and the massive impact Warne had on the tournament.

2023 saw the completion of 75 glorious years of India and Australia’s diplomatic ties through cricket. In March, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad to commemorate the momentous occasion alongside the Honourable Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi. The two leaders were welcomed by Gujarat Governor Acharya Devvrat, Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) President Roger Binny and Secretary Jay Shah. Both Prime Ministers then watched the Test match being played between India and Australia at the time and also handed out caps to the players. It wasn’t just a moment to cherish in India’s rich cricketing history, but also a testament to the growing friendship between the two nations with cricket as a crucial thread bringing them together.

The WTC Final will be another feather to the India-Australia cap full of memorable cricketing moments.