The Rohit Sharm-led India will be desperate to break their barren run in ICC events and win the coveted ‘mace’ when they face Pat Cummins’ formidable Australia in the much-awaited World Test Championship (WTC) final at the Kennington Oval, here on Wednesday.
Undoubtedly, India’s team has been the most consistent one over the past two WTC cycles. They have also managed to reach knockout phases of major white-ball tournaments over the last 10 years but a trophy has eluded them. On the other hand, Australia will be looking to add to their enviable collection of world titles after missing a spot in the WTC final last cycle.
As far as the competition between the two sides is concerned, India have dominated Australia in the recent past. They have won their last four Test series against Australia — two at home and two away — all by 2-1 margins.
Once again, eyes will be on India skipper Rohit Sharma, who is coming from an ordinary form in IPL 2023 and will certainly have that pressure to lead from the front with the bat.
However, a day before the start of the ‘Ultimate Test’, the 36-year-old was hit on the left thumb while batting in the nets. Rohit, who was taking throwdowns, was seen holding his left thumb following a hit in the nets but he did not appear to be in pain or a lot of discomfort.
According to reports, the Indian captain did not bat after getting hit but it was just a precautionary measure and there is nothing much to worry about. India will need a good start from Rohit, who had a successful England tour as an opener in 2021. His opening partner Shubhman Gill is in red-hot form and will look to continue the purple patch of his career. Though, his technique will also get tested in tough English conditions.
The good thing for India is that Cheteshwar Pujara has spent a decent amount of time in England this season during his County stints. Not only batting, but his advice on pitch and weather will also be valuable to the team. And once again, there will be huge expectations from Virat Kohli, who had a superb IPL 2023 season with the bat. Ajinkya Rahahne has also made his India comeback after an amazing IPL 2023 season with CSK and his experience will be valuable.
India’s top five batters are almost certain but there is a dilemma over the wicket-keeper’s slot. K.S. Bharat’s superior glovework gave him the chance over Ishan Kishan during the home series against Australia, but in English conditions where keepers spend far less time up to the stumps negotiating a sharp turn and inconsistent bounce, India could be tempted to back Kishan’s counter-attacking skills and left-handedness.
However, the biggest question the Indian team management faces, though, is whether to play four fast bowlers and just one spinner in Ravindra Jadeja or pair him with R. Ashwin. The likes of Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj and Umesh Yadav are likely to be India pacers for the all-important game.
On the other hand, the Pat Cummins-led Australia have already confirmed that Scott Boland will take the place of injured Josh Hazlewood. Thus the rest of the spots in their XI almost pick themselves.
In all likelihood, David Warner will open the innings with Usman Khawaja, followed by Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green and Alex Carey –which is a solid batting line-up. The mainstay of the Australian batting line-up — Labuschagne and Smith — were also part of the County cricket in England this season and it will certainly help them in countering the Indian bowling line-up.
And the likes of Pat Cummins, Scott Boland, Mitchell Starc, Cameron Green and Nathan Lyon, form a lethal bowling attack and will test the Indian batters for sure.
As far as pitch and weather are concerned, the Oval track typically tends to offer plenty of bounce, which could enthuse bowlers, both fast and slow, on either side, as well as allow batters to play their shots if there isn’t too much sideways movement. However, the ground has never previously hosted a Test match as early as June, so it will be interesting to see.
The forecast promises a clear, bright start to the Test match but there could be rain on Saturday, Sunday and Monday — the scheduled fourth, fifth and reserve days.
Notably, both Australia and India have struggled at The Oval ground, which has hosted 104 matches so far.
India have played 14 Test matches at this venue, winning two, losing three and drawing seven of them. The last time India played at The Oval, it won by 157 runs against England in 2021. On the other hand, Australia have played 34 matches at this venue, winning seven, losing 17, and drawing 14 of them. The last time it played at The Oval, it lost by 137 runs against England in 2019.
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, Michael Neser, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Josh Inglis, Todd Murphy, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner.
Reserves: Mitch Marsh, Matt Renshaw