WTC Final preview: India face tough Australia challenge in 'ultimate Test' as it aims to end ICC title drought
Team India will aim to break their decade-long ICC trophy jinx when they square off a formidable Australian unit in the World Test Championship (WTC) Final at The Oval staring on Wednesday.
The stage is set for the World Test Championship (WTC) Final between a formidable Indian team and a raring Australian side at The Oval, starting on Wednesday, and Rohit Sharma and Co. will need a healthy mix of talent and temperament when they square off against Pat Cummins-led side with an aim to break the decade-long ICC trophy jinx.
India has been the most reliable team throughout the last two WTC cycles, and they have also been to the final stages of significant white-ball competitions over the past ten years, although they have yet to win a trophy.
India last took home a significant ICC trophy in 2013, when it won the Champions Trophy in England. Since then, the team has suffered three final defeats and four semifinal defeats. The 2021 T20 World Cup preliminary round was another exit for the Men in Blue. The nation has mostly been responsible for the sport's financial success, and with the massive skill pool available, it is reasonable to think that it will dominate matches on the pitch.
India only lost one of the six series they played in this cycle, and that setback, in South Africa, prompted an unexpected change in leadership, with Rohit Sharma replacing Virat Kohli. They remained unbeatable at home, fought hard to draw a series in England, and then managed to escape a minor scare in Bangladesh.
The legacy of a team is determined by its ability to win major championships, but Rahul Dravid, the head coach of India, remains confident in his squad regardless of the result of the final at The Oval.
"In the context of things, you look at this and you see this is the culmination of two years of work. It's a culmination of a lot of success that gets you here," said Dravid ahead of the title clash.
"Winning the series in Australia, drawing series here, being very competitive everywhere that this team has played in the world over the last five or six years. I think those are things that will never change just because you have or you don't have an ICC trophy," he said.
Will India learn from past mistakes?
When facing the Black Caps in the WTC final at Southampton two years ago, India ignored the conditions and used their customary strength -- two spinners. However, the strategy backfired.
India is preparing to enter the unknown as The Oval prepares to host its maiden Test in its 143-year history in June, and they must make a few crucial selection decisions that could determine the outcome of the ultimate Test match.
It will always be a temptation to play both Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin in the same team but considering that it is only the start of the summer and pitches are fresh, there is a strong case for a fourth pace bowling option.
When it comes to batting, Rishabh Pant is not available to save the team in the event that the top order falters. The management must, therefore, choose between using Ishan Kishan's "x-factor" and K S Bharat's more dependable wicket-keeping abilities.
Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj are expected to lead India's pace attack, and a call will need to be taken over Umesh Yadav and all-rounder Shardul Thakur.
Switching from IPL to playing red ball cricket
Majority of the Indian team barely had a week to practise together in the picturesque town of Arundel before leaving for London due to their involvement in the two-month-long IPL.
Modern cricketers are expected to bounce between forms with ease, but playing Test cricket in England is never simple. When one has to compete against pacers like Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, and Scott Boland, the task becomes more difficult.
As the "Ultimate Test," it will feature established players like Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli as well as a budding talent like Shubman Gill. Ajinkya Rahane will be eager to perform in his comeback game, while Cheteshwar Pujara will try to maintain the strong form he has displayed in County cricket.
High-stake 'warm up' ahead of The Ashes for Australia
Australians will enter the final with a fresher mind and body than Indians who are match-fit following a lengthy IPL season. Only three of their players played in the IPL 2023. While Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith used their spells with the County to get ready for the long summer, players like Cummins decided to train at home.
How either team's top-order performs when faced with challenging pace could very well determine the outcome of the match. Usman Khawaja, the team's opener, will be expected to perform on the big stage following a few of successful seasons, while David Warner, who is towards the end of his career, will want to make a statement.
Smith has a close to 100 average at this venue, thus India needs to get rid of him quickly before he steals the game from them. Veteran off-spinner Nathan Lyon will continue to pose questions regardless of how the surface responds, and Cameron Green's contribution as an all-arounder will be vital.
India: Rohit Sharma (captain), Ravichandran Ashwin, KS Bharat, Shubman Gill, Ravindra Jadeja, Virat Kohli, Ishan Kishan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Axar Patel, Ajinkya Rahane, Mohammad Shami, Mohammad Siraj, Shardul Thakur, Jaydev Unadakt, Umesh Yadav.
Reserves: Yashasvi Jaiswal, Mukesh Kumar, Suryakumar Yadav.
Australia: Pat Cummins (captain), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Josh Inglis, Todd Murphy, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner.
Reserves: Mitch Marsh, Matt Renshaw
Match starts 3 PM IST