LONDON: Just before play on Friday, Shardul Thakur and Ricky Ponting caught up for a brief amount of time. During the conversation, Thakur, who had a prior working relationship with the Australian (he played under him at Delhi Capitals), had admitted to feeling the pinch with respect to bowling a lot of overs. "I had a chat with Shardul and he said he's started to feel the pinch," Ponting told the media just before tea on the third day.
Thakur was feeling the pinch because he had bowled 23 overs over one-and-a-half days' worth of cricket. At the Indian Premier League, he had bowled 21 overs over almost two months.
The former Australian captain, who was answering questions in his role as an Ambassador for the WTC Final, was of the opinion that India or, for that matter, Australia, came into the final without ideal preparation.
"Their preparation probably wasn't ideal coming into a one-off Test with all their players being at the IPL. Few of the Australian boys were there. Few of the Australian boys hadn't done anything for three months either... what was the best preparation coming into a game like this? Was it playing pretty high-quality competitive cricket in the IPL or was it better off being at home, resting up and doing a bit of non-competitive training?"
"So far both teams have been a bit rusty. (Pat) Cummins getting wickets off no-balls means his rhythm isn't where he wants it to be. One-off game and in the time of the year, there's never going to be ideal preparation time for anybody. But you have to do the best you can to be ready and execute it on the day. I mean, Travis Head is the perfect example of this, (he) hasn't picked up a bat for a few months."
Sure, the short turnaround time between the IPL and a final such as this means there will always be some corners cut when it comes to preparation time. You would much rather want players playing the WTC final to not play competitive games, maintain a good sleep cycle, travel out a good 10 days in advance and work towards the final. But the IPL schedule means as long as the WTC final stays in the UK (the next edition will also be in London with Lord's slated to host it in 2025), teams must adapt.
Ponting, Capitals' coach the last few years, hinted at the same thing. He used the examples of Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane to drive home this point when replying to a question on whether India's batters were impacted by the IPL. "If you ask Virat, he would say it's been perfect for him because he has got all sorts of runs. If you asked Rahane, he wouldn't have been picked for this match without the IPL, so it's going to work both ways."
That's the thing about playing in a shootout. There are no second chances and seemingly no right or wrong way to prepare for it. Take Cheteshwar Pujara for instance. The batter was plying his trade in the County circuit and made big runs. Going by conventional wisdom, if anybody was equipped to see out the new ball and bat time, it was going to be him. Yet, a misjudgment put paid to his stay. Then, there's the curious case of Rahane at the other end of the spectrum. He featured in the Ranji Trophy before remodelling himself as a six-hitter in the IPL. On Friday, he played one of his typical fighting Test innings.
So, what's the best way to prepare? While playing in a highly competitive environment before a big final is never the answer (there's a reason why most leading tennis players, as an example, avoid playing in the week before a Major), 'it's up to each individual', as Ponting said.