Winning Bizness Sports Desk
Its final, its official—India has made it to the final of the World Test Championship (WTC) to be played in England in early-June this year. India won the just concluded four test match series against Australia 2-1, winning the first two tests very decisively but losing the third equally decisively. The fourth and last test ended in a draw.
The WTC final will be played at The Oval in London between June 7-11, soon after the completion of this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) season in end-May.
An important point that needs highlighting here is that this will be the second straight WTC final for India—the last time which was the inaugural WTC season (2019-2021), India had lost the final to New Zealand.
Australia had already qualified for the WTC final following its victory in the third test match while India needed to win the last test to qualify. A draw would have meant that India would have had to await the result of the Sri Lanka versus New Zealand test series currently being played in New Zealand.
Sri Lanka needed to win both the test matches to edge out India which was a tall order indeed, considering that the New Zealanders are virtually unbeatable on their home grounds. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka ran them close and at one stage looked like pulling off an incredible victory, only to be denied in the end.
A Sri Lankan victory would have kept India on tenterhooks until the second test between the visitors and New Zealand got over—Sri Lanka would have needed to win that as well to qualify for the final. Now, however, with Sri Lanka out of the equation, India can rest easy.
The WTC cycle done, both India and Australia will now challenge each other in a three match One-Day International (ODI) series beginning March 17. The first encounter will be staged at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.
In this cycle of the WTC, India is second-placed behind Australia. The latter won 11 out of the 19 matches it played, lost three and drew five to earn 152 points and a PCT of 66.66.
PCT or points percentage system is the percentage of points won out of the total number of points contested by each team.
India played 18 matches, won 10, lost six and drew two. Its points tally stood at 127 and PCT at 58.79. India’s performance has been creditable in this (2021-23) WTC cycle and a look at its results will bear this out.
In 2021-22, India played five tests against England in England and drew the series 2-2. India defeated New Zealand 1-0 in a two test match series played in India in 2021 and then lost to South Africa in South Africa 1-2 in 2021-22.
India then blanked out both Sri Lanka 2-0 and Bangladesh 2-0 last year before defeating Australia 2-1 in the just concluded four test match series.
While all eyes will now be on the two contestants of the WTC final to be played in June, a few words about the Sri Lanka-New Zealand test match is in order for the thrill and excitement it provided the spectators, proving once again test cricket’s paramountcy.
New Zealand won off the last ball of the match and that too through a rapid dash for a bye. Sri Lanka had scored 355 and 302 while New Zealand which scored 373 runs in the first inning needed to score 285 for a win which it did for the loss of eight wickets to scrape to a two-wicket triumph.
Interestingly, this is the second consecutive nail-biting victory for New Zealand—the Kiwis had scraped through to a one-run victory against the Ben Stokes-led England side in end-February in Wellington.
This New Zealand victory is historical as England had enforced a follow-on—the Kiwis are thus only the fourth team to win a test match after following-on and also only the second to win by a one-run margin.
The second test match against Sri Lanka will be played in Wellington beginning March 17.
The WTC cycle done, both India and Australia will now challenge each other in a three match One-Day International (ODI) series also beginning March 17. The first encounter will be staged at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. The second and third one-dayers will be played on March 19 and 22 at Visakhapatnam and Chennai, respectively.
These three matches assume significance as the 50-overs World Cup will be played in October this year with India hosting the prestigious tournament.
The last time India won the World Cup was in 2011, more than a decade ago and its cupboard of trophies since then has been almost bare. (India won the Champions Trophy in 2013). India would, therefore, like to win the forthcoming world cup on its home soil.
This ODI series is one of the few opportunities for both the teams to get valuable practice, try out new players, strategies and tactics. The IPL is a 20-20 tournament and the WTC a test match—the formats are different. There is, of course, the county season with its one-day cricket tournament in England in which international players do participate but one-day matches involving national teams are not that many.
Therefore, teams must maximise their learnings from the matches available prior to the October World Cup and this ODI series offers just this opportunity to both India and Australia.
The series-winner will also enjoy a psychological advantage vis-à-vis the WTC final.
While spinners delivered the goods for India at home, they may not prove that decisive in English conditions. The Indian fast bowlers will, therefore, have to come to the party and in a big way.
It must be pointed out that while India won the first two tests of the just concluded series very convincingly, there were occasions in both when Australia was competitive. The Kangaroos turned the tables on India in the third test while the fourth ended in a draw with neither enjoying a clear advantage.
The WTC final can be expected to be hotly contested. The conditions in England will be vastly different from those encountered in India in this series. The weather (rains) could play a big part in deciding the outcome of the match.
While spinners delivered the goods for India at home, they may not prove that decisive in English conditions. The Indian fast bowlers will, therefore, have to come to the party and in a major manner.
Much will be expected of Mohammed Siraj, Mohammed Shami and other supporting fast bowlers, whoever they may be. With the ball likely to swing a lot and with rain always round the corner in June in England, Bhuvneshwar Kumar could still get a look-in. Umesh Yadav bowled well in the fourth test against Australia and he too stands a chance to be selected provided he is fit.
Then there are others with outside chances—Umran Malik, Arshdeep Singh, Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar. The latter’s selection will, however, hinge significantly on his fitness. The forthcoming IPL could witness the emergence of some new fast bowling stars but it is unlikely that the selectors will pick a newcomer based only on IPL performance.
Australia has a very strong fast bowling machine comprising likely captain Pat Cummins along with Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Cameron Green. The quartet is capable of running through the best of batting sides and if presented with helpful conditions, could well-nigh be unplayable.
Indian spinners, have in the past, proved their worth in England and in other parts of the world as well but given the likely weather and ground conditions in England in early-June, it is difficult to envisage the Indian spinners playing a big hand as they did in the just concluded series against Australia.
Having said this, however, it must be borne in mind that India’s lead spinners—Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja—are both world-class bowlers capable of transcending conditions and coming-up with match-winning efforts. However, given the likely playing conditions, it is the fast bowlers who will have to essay a major role in the match.
Australia has a very strong fast bowling machine comprising likely captain Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Cameron Green. The quartet is capable of running through the best of batting line-ups and if presented with helpful conditions, then they could well-nigh be unplayable.
Australia played with two and even three spinners in India—Nathan Lyon, Todd Murphy and Matthew Kuhnemann. In England, however, Lyon could be the Kangaroos’ lone spinner.
India’s batters will have to sharpen themselves before this big test. In the just concluded series, many in the top order were afflicted by inconsistency and even though Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli redeemed themselves with centuries, they have to be at their best in English conditions.
Of late, the Indian middle-and-late-order has bailed the team out on several occasions but they cannot be expected to pull India’s chestnuts out of the fire every time—the top order must also score runs consistently. Shubman Gill’s century in the last test thus augurs well for India.
Australia’s batting is strong with Usman Khwaja, Cameron Green, Travis Head, Steve Smith, Marcus Labuschagne and others capable of putting up good scores and giving their bowlers sufficient runs to bowl against.
The WTC final will thus be a hard-fought no-holds barred encounter between two equally well-matched sides and the one which wins the maximum number of sessions will likely be crowned the champion. Cricket enthusiasts have already begun salivating at the prospect of a nail-biter which many India-Australia contests have turned into in recent times.