WTC Final: India-Australia set to duke it out at The Oval
Both team managements seem keen on getting players early to England in hopes of preparing for the final
AHMEDABAD: WHEN India featured in the inaugural final of the World Test Championship, they didn't have to factor in the workload management of the players featuring in the Indian Premier League (IPL). They had legislated for that but a rampaging Delta variant of Covid-19 meant the League was suspended in the first week of May.
After spending time in their homes, the players arrived in the UK in the first week of June. Before the final, staged in a bio-bubble like environment in Southampton from June 18, the players had the opportunity to spend two weeks in the country.
Most of them won't be able to have that opportunity this time thanks to the Indian Premier League. The 10-team League is slated to finish in the last week of May. So the turnaround time is less; the WTC final is scheduled to start from June 7. That being the case, the Indian team management will have to get creative when it comes to their Test players getting the necessary practice before the final.
Some of the plans that are being put in place revolve around sending the players whose teams have already been eliminated as early as possible to England to get ready for the final.
"I believe in preparation and preparation again is going to be key for us come the final," skipper Rohit Sharma said after the final day's play against Australia at Ahmedabad. "Around 21st May, there will be 6 teams who are possibly going to be out of the IPL. Whichever players are available will try and find some time and see if they can get to the UK as early as possible and get some time in the UK and we will monitor what happens after that."
As part of those preparations, fast bowlers will be getting a supply of Dukes to train with during the course of the IPL. "We are sending some Dukes balls to all the fast bowlers," Sharma said when explaining about the existing plans in place. "If they get some time to bowl with that... but again, it all depends on the individuals. Not that guys who are going to be part of the finals have not played in the UK. One or two guys here and there, the rest all of us have played in that part of the world. So, I don't think it's going to be a huge problem."
While franchise officials may not be too thrilled with the potential idea of resting Indian internationals (there is no such idea as of now but there could be conversations regarding that down the line), Sharma also said the team management will be in constant touch with everybody to monitor the workload of all players in question. "It's (workload monitoring) quite critical for us," Sharma said. "We are going to keep in constant touch with all players who are going to be part of that final to monitor their workload."
On the final itself, the skipper made the interesting argument that while it will be a neutral venue for both teams, both have played lots of games in that part of the world. "Thinking of playing them in the final, it's going to be a different ball game," he said. "A neutral venue for both the teams, both teams have played a lot of cricket in that part of the world. Won't say it's going to be alien conditions for both the teams. Yes, compared to what it is like playing India in India and Australia in Australia, it's not going to be like that, it's going to be slightly different. I'm pretty sure both teams will prepare for it in whatever time we get after the IPL. We will try and find time and get ready for that."
While most of India's Test specialists end up playing for IPL sides, several of the Australian batters and bowlers, including captain Pat Cummins, will miss the league. Steve Smith, for example, will warm up for the WTC final with a stint with Sussex.
While Smith made the point that a traditional Oval wicket takes some spin as the game wears on, the wickets there are the closest in terms of pace and bounce to the strips in Australia. "It's going to be great coming up against India in the final," he said in the post-match press conference. "Oval, the wicket there can take up some spin, particularly as the game wears on. It could be interesting in terms of what sort of wicket we get. It's a great place to play cricket, there's usually reasonable bounce and pace for an English wicket. Probably as close as you get to Australia in terms of pace and bounce."
After playing four Tests where the pace was slow and the bounce was all kinds of varying, these two teams will duke it out for supremacy in a one-match shootout.