World Test Championship final — no room for experimentation
After the _ (fill in the appropriate word depending on your political and sporting proclivities: weird, bizarre, inspiring, stunning, embarrassing, hubristic, painful, moving, rousing, crazy…) start to the Ahmedabad Test, it was surprising that Virat Kohli won the player-of-the-match award. The real impact players were paraded around in what looked like an oversized shoe to chants that weren’t ‘Kohli, Kohli’ as they usually are in an Indian stadium.
It is unlikely that the tacky tableau will be repeated when India take on Australia next, in the final of the World Test Championship at the Oval in London. But that will not be the only change. India will be deprived of the edge they had at home, and in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah, their pace attack will be considerably weakened. They will have to choose between playing two spinners or one as they usually do in away Tests.
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India play no red ball cricket before the final which is just over a week after the IPL final. Players are professional enough to make the adjustments in today’s cricket. India are planning to use Duke balls in the IPL — the same as will be used in England — and also to send players in batches as their teams drop out of the IPL. This makes sense.
India will also be without three important performers of the previous WTC final which they lost to New Zealand: Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant and Ishant Sharma. India went in then with three fast bowlers and two spinners, a combination they might be forced to play this time around too.
There is little room for experimentation in a one-off final, with a combination of talent, experience and form being the only criterion to go by. An inspired selection based on a hunch, perhaps of a fast bowler, is unlikely to be attempted even. The world championship final is the culmination of two years’ cricket; it cannot be seen as the starting point.
The batting slots are more or less taken, with the only choice in the top half being between the experience of K.L. Rahul and the form of Shubman Gill (who opened in the last final). K.S. Bharat has done enough to be retained as wicketkeeper despite a middling home series.
Australia in England will be a different proposition from Australia in India, and will probably go into the final as slim favourites given their better bowling, especially the fast men, if everyone is fit.
Of India’s two gains from the home series (Kohli’s big century was not a revelation), the form and class of Gill is a possible hint that he will take over as India’s leading batter from Kohli just as the latter took over from Sachin Tendulkar. This has been everyone’s expectation for some time now, and it was good to see the inevitability of its realisation.
The second gain, that of Axar Patel as batsman has been an eye-opener. It will be interesting to see how India handle him so as to get the best out of him. It took Ravindra Jadeja a while to establish himself as a genuine all rounder in the top class, and if Axar, five years younger, is headed that way too it can only benefit Indian cricket. His role needs to be made clear to him, his performances outside India need to be studied before he is seen as a like-for-like replacement for Jadeja in the future.
Nature of pitches
India have done exceptionally well to win four successive Test series against Australia, two in each country. The batting-friendly pitch in Ahmedabad put the earlier ones in perspective. Are slow turners which guarantee a result (even if in three days) better for the game or is it more desirable to have batting tracks that look like lasting ten days and guarantee a draw?
Taken to the extreme, one kills batsmanship, the other destroys bowlers. Which is why Rohit Sharma’s century in the first Test and Ravichandran Ashwin’s six for 90 in the final one were the best batting and bowling performances respectively of the series.
The one-day series begins on Friday in Mumbai. The caravans roll on. One bearing cricketers and the other carrying politicians following their brief coming together in Ahmedabad.