Winning Bizness Sports Desk
India takes on Australia in a one-off match from June 7-11 in the World Test Championship (WTC) final to be played at The Oval in England. Coming a little over a week after the conclusion of what could be labelled the best IPL season ever, the India-Australia encounter has generated a tremendous interest among cricket afficionados and lay fans alikeall over the world.
The WTC is only in its second season—the first WTC (2019-21) was won by New Zealand who defeated India in the final played at the Rose Bowl, Southampton, in England in June 2021. For Australia, this is its first entry into the final while India was the runner-up last time. For India, therefore, the WTC final will be very crucial as it would not like to return empty-handed for the second time in a row. Besides, India has not won any ICC title in the last several years.
India will, therefore, be desperate to break the drought of ICC title runs. For Australia, which has won several titles in the past but which has entered the WTC final for the first time, a win will be like the icing on the cake.
Australia has won multiple ODI and T20 World Cups—if it wins the WTC final beginning on June 7, then it will hold the enviable record of having won the world championship in all three formats. The same applies to India as well—the team has won both the ODI and T20 titles in the past and ranked second in the WTC last season. For India too, a win in the WTC final will be a dream come true.
India has won the ODI trophy twice, in 1983 defeating the West Indies (in England) and then again after 28-years in 2011 by beating Sri Lanka. India also won the inaugural T20 world championship held in 2007. The Kangaroos have held aloft the ODI World Cup five times and been runners-up twice, an enviable record indeed.
Additionally, the Aussies have won the T20 World Cup once. For both teams, a victory in the WTC will be a first, and hence, one can expect a no-holds barred contest between the two at The Oval beginning tomorrow.
India appears to be the more fancied team and slightly stronger on paper but Australia can never be taken lightly. The last time too, India was the more fancied team but New Zealand got the better of India to win the inaugural championship title.
For India, the WTC final will be very crucial as it has not won any ICC title in the last several years. India will, therefore, be desperate to break the drought of ICC title runs. For Australia, which has won several titles in the past but which has entered the WTC final for the first time, a win here will be like the icing on the cake.
The fact that the match is being played in early June should normally be of advantage to the Australians as normally it tends to rain during this period, which favours the fast bowlers. The Australian fast bowling machine is very powerful indeed with Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Scott Boland, Michael Neser and Cameron Green. Josh Hazlewood was selected initially but has now been ruled out of the WTC match—the Australian selectors have called up Michael Neser as his replacement.
Its spin bowling is also not to be taken lightly comprising as it does of Nathan Lyon and Todd Murphy. Nathan Lyon is today recognised as one of the world’s best spinners along with Ravichandran Ashwin of India who too is likely to play in the match. Todd Murphy is also capable of troubling the best of batters and hence the Indian batters would do well not to underestimate the Aussie spinners.
A point to be highlighted here is that The Oval normally does favour spinners and India has traditionally done well at this venue. The weather too has so far been encouraging from the Indian point of view—there has been little rain and hence the pitch may not be so favourably inclined towards fast bowers as it otherwise would have been during this period.
This could neutralise the more fancied Australian fast bowling attack a little. But the trio of Pat Cummins, Scott Boland and Mitchell Starc are highly experienced and possess the requisite skills to overcome conditions and pose tough questions to the batters. India too has a reasonably good pace bowling attack comprising of Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Siraj.
However, given that this summer has been warm with little rain, there is every likelihood of spinners from both teams coming to the party.
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja between them have 738 wickets with Ashwin’s scalps alone totalling 474 in 92 tests. Jadeja accounts for the balance in 64 tests. How the Aussie batters tackle the Indian spinners could well decide the course of this match.
This is where India holds the edge. In the past, India has played in England with only one spinner dropping even a bowler of the calibre of Ashwin from the playing eleven. This time India could go in with two spinners in Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. India also has Axar Patel who has some very creditable performances against his name in the recent past but it is unlikely that he will be in the playing eleven.
Both the teams have high quality spinners but India has a slight edge over Australia in this department. A point to be highlighted here is that Indian batters are traditionally good players of spin while the same cannot be said of the Aussies.
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja between them have 738 wickets with Ashwin’s scalps alone totalling 474 in 92 tests. Jadeja accounts for the balance in 64 tests. Nathan Lyon’s class is evident from his record—482 wickets from 119 tests while Murphy at just 22-years of age promises much in the future. Presently, he has played four tests for 14 wickets but he is much better than these figures suggest.
How the Aussie batters tackle the Indian spinners could well decide the course of this match. Veteran southpaws David Warner and Usman Khwaja and former captain Steve Smith will lead the Aussie batting unit along with the highly promising Cameron Green whose exploits in the just-concluded IPL are still fresh in memory.
Then there is Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head and wicket-keeper Alex Carey who are all very capable of thwarting the Indian bowlers. Labuschagne, in particular, has a very impressive test record and is talked about as a future Australian great. Just 28-years of age, he has in a mere 37 tests accumulated 3,394 runs at an average of 57.52.
India’s batting has faltered at times on overseas grounds, especially against quality pace bowling. A point to be highlighted here is that in the recent past, India’s top order has not delivered consistently. It has been the middle-order and lower-order that has bailed India out several times and not just in test matches but also in both the limited overs formats.
One can expect an interesting battle at The Oval come June 7. Both the teams will have to be on their toes throughout the match and the team which commits the least mistakes could well end up as the winner.
For India to be comfortably placed, the Indian batters must deliver beginning with its openers and followed by numbers three, four and five. The five together must at least put up 200-to-250 runs which will ease pressure on the middle-and-lower order which will most likely comprise of Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin followed by the tail-enders.
India’s latter order is capable of putting up resistance and adding valuable runs but it cannot do it always. Therefore, it must not be left to the last five to bail-out India every time—the top five should now step-up and lay the foundation for a big score to give the bowlers a reasonable chance to bowl out Australia twice.
India’s batting is strong and its top-order, on paper at least, is as formidable as they come. It has been further strengthened with the inclusion of the experienced Ajinkya Rahane.
Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill are the designated openers with Pujara, Kohli and Rahane following in that order. K S Bharat could get the nod over Ishan Kishan as wicket-keeper. The two spin all-rounders—Ashwin and Jadeja—are automatic picks while the last three spots will be filled up by the three fast bowlers Shami, Siraj and Umesh Yadav.
Most of the players from both sides come with match practice behind them. Several Australians and almost all the Indians are coming from the IPL while a few Australians and Pujara have been playing country cricket.
Therefore, barring one or two players, the rest should be match fit though some will have to make the transition from the T20 format to the test match format quickly. How quickly they adapt to the requirements of test cricket could prove a determining factor in this test match.
Both the teams are almost evenly matched with India perhaps having the slightest of slight edges. The Indian batters are experienced and the team bats deep. Similarly, its fast bowlers have the ability to extract movement early on and if they are able to get early breakthroughs, then Ashwin and Jadeja can be relied upon to trouble the Australian batters.
One can expect an interesting battle at The Oval come June 7. Both the teams will have to be on their toes throughout the match and the team which commits the least mistakes could well end up as the winner. While the stakes are high for both the teams, for India which has not won an ICC title for several years, this match presents a wonderful opportunity to break the drought. A win for Australia, on the other hand, will only serve to seal its position as the most formidable cricketing side in the world.