LONDON: For India, the World Test Championship final is a chance to bookend a fairly successful two-year campaign. After the assignment against Australia, they get a month's rest before the Tour of West Indies, their first trip of the next WTC cycle.
For Australia, the WTC final comes at a curious time. At some level, it's almost the undercard for their main event of the Summer, an away Ashes. Sure, Pat Cummins, who has been the Test skipper for the majority of this WTC cycle, will like to get his hands on the ICC title but the subtext for the majority of the last 10 days has been hard to miss.
Till Friday night, four Australians (Steve Smith twice, Travis Head, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc) have had press conferences. Almost every question they have been asked links back to the Ashes in some way, shape or form.
If it's not about countering Bazball, it's about deciding between picking Scott Boland or Josh Hazlewood, the ChatGPT answer to the pacer ideally suited to exploit English conditions. A day before the match, Cummins was asked about how he was viewing the final considering a few people — perhaps tongue-in-cheek — were referring to this as a 'warm-up' for the Ashes. To be fair to Cummins, he did say 'This (the final) was an event in itself'.
Starc, who has had an up-and-down Test so far, had to remind the Australian cricket press corps that the final was still up in the air after Friday's third day. "There will be plenty of discussions after this game (when asked about his plans for the Ashes)," he said. "First and foremost, we need to win a Test Championship and then we will focus on the England side with the next five Tests."
To another question on the venues he prefers in England, he once again had to speak about the Test at The Oval. "Based on the last time, not many," he smiled. "We will wait and see, but we have got two days of cricket here to focus on first. We will get onto the Ashes after that."
Smith also sang from the same hymn sheet when he was asked on the subject. "We are all just looking forward to this week," he said. "As I said before, it's two years in the making, I suppose, of getting to the final of the World Test Championships. So, you know, it's a big week for us and India. So we'll get through this and then we'll focus after that.
Saying that an away Ashes series win is perhaps right at the very top of the wishlist for cricketers from both nations. More so because of the challenging nature of winning a series away from home these days. Australia, for instance, haven't won in England since the 2001 series. That wasn't lost on Cummins. "After this Test, we kind of start again... doesn't get much bigger than an Ashes away series. There will be a winner after this game and you kind of move on and start afresh."
The skipper, who hasn't played much cricket coming into the final, was also asked about the lengths he may want to bowl and the potential of playing all five Ashes Tests a day before the WTC final. "I think the way it's set up (the schedule of the five Tests) is pretty good," he said. "You play two Tests, week off, two Tests, week off. So, yeah (plan to play all five Tests)."
Having already won both white-ball World Cups, several members of this group will love to get their hands on the mace. But irrespective of whether they do it or not on Sunday, focus, as they have said, will move to the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston beginning June 16.