WTC Final 2023: A change is coming

Having missed their chance to win yet another ICC title, the transitional phase at the start of new WTC 2023-25 cycle will be key for India if they wish to end barren run since 2013
Scott Boland dismisses Virat Kohli in the second innings of the WTC final.
Scott Boland dismisses Virat Kohli in the second innings of the WTC final.

LONDON: At The Oval, six of India's starting XI were 34 or over, with only one player under the age of 25 (Shubman Gill). Nearly half of the players who featured in the first match of the inaugural World Test Championship cycle against West Indies in August 2019 featured against Australia this week. Apart from Mohammed Shami, the other four players were already pushing 30 or on the wrong side of it then. In the 2021 final against New Zealand, eight (six had their India whites last week, save R Ashwin and the back-at-home Ishant Sharma) players were over the age of 30.

In a roundabout way, this is to say that the Test team has had a settled — very much a euphemism in this context — look to it. It's pretty much been a closed shop. While they have served the Indian team well — that's perhaps an understatement considering this is a Golden Generation — now is probably a time for change. In a big way. All eras do come to an end. The ultimately deflating 209-run defeat at The Oval did have era-ending vibes about it.

Skipper Rohit Sharma himself admitted as much in a post-final press conference. "Any tournament you play, you start looking at what possibly you can do moving ahead," he said when asked a question on forward-planning for the next two-year WTC cycle considering most of the team were on the wrong side of 30.

"Obviously, there will be some talks around it and we will see whatever is required and whatever is best, whatever the brand of cricket we want to play in the next two years. Who are the guys who can do that role for us? That is the question that we need to find answers to. There are a lot of guys, there are a lot of players who are doing really well in our domestic cricket as well. It's just about finding them and giving them that space, enough time to go forward and do the job for us. It's all about that. The focus will be on that." 

Of course, it is easier said than done. There's a reason why the team have been compelled to go back to players they had jettisoned earlier. Even keeping aside the injuries to batters like Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul, the team management judged that Suryakumar Yadav would be the next cab off the rank. When you go through the list of debutants, only two players made their debuts under the age of 25 since 2020 (Gill and Washington Sundar). Worryingly still, out of all the players to have made their debuts in 2015 or later, only two (Rishabh Pant and Jasprit Bumrah) can be considered automatic all-terrain starters.

With the next WTC final also being in England (Lord's in 2025), a fact that was strangely lost on Sharma, they don't have many options but to continue to grow specific player pools. "Also, I want to see where the next World Test Championship final is being played as well," he said. "That depends where we play. Based on that, we will decide what sort of players we want to get ready and what kind of cricket we want to play."   

The upcoming churn could claim Sharma himself — he's 36, and, officially, India's all-format captain — but his stated ambition remains the same. "In life, you want to move forward and win games. For me, winning Championships is the most important thing rather than winning any series. So, yeah, I am certainly very disappointed but you know, I have got to keep the guys motivated, make sure, there's not too much negativity around in the changing room. And keep the atmosphere nice and healthy for the next event that we have."

India's next WTC-related assignment is a trip to the West Indies that will also kick-start another cycle. How many of The Oval XI will survive the cull? Will there even be a cull? 

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The New Indian Express