The ICC World Test Championship Final begins on Wednesday 7 June, with both teams having spent the past fortnight reacquainting themselves with the particular challenges of playing cricket early in an English summer.
India are back for a shot at the title after having lost to New Zealand in the 2021 edition of the WTC Final in such conditions, playing under heavy cloud cover for much of the Test in Southampton. But the forecast and pitch conditions appear to be far more favourable this time around, for the most part.
This week’s game represents the finale of two years of hard-fought Test cricket in the World Test Championship cycle, with the world’s top-two ranked sides both making it through to this showpiece event.
Both teams possess plenty of quality in their bowling attacks, with Australia set to use Scott Boland alongside Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc in the absence of the injured Josh Hazlewood.
And Australia captain Cummins is also well aware of the threat that India will pose with the ball this week, particularly given that some of the Australian side have only just finished playing alongside their Indian opponents in the recently-concluded Indian Premier League.
Mohammad Shami and Mohammed Siraj will spearhead the Indian bowling attack in the absence of the injured Jasprit Bumrah, with a decision yet to be made on whether both spinners, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, will play.
While India have plenty of quality in their squad, ICC pundit and former Australian captain Ricky Ponting believes that the Aussies have a slight edge in the English conditions.
“I think Australia are going to be a lot more settled and then when you think about conditions here as well, these early June conditions are probably more like Australian conditions than they are Indian,” Ponting, part of the broadcast team, said.
“Saying that, we all know how well India played in Australia last time they were there, but I just think on the back of their work that they’ve done, Australia start narrow favourites.”
What happens in the case of rain interruptions or a draw?
Lost playing time due to weather interruptions may be recovered in the ICC World Test Championship Final with a reserve day, the calculations for which are laid out in the playing conditions.
If the match is drawn, tied, or abandoned, the teams shall be declared joint winners of the ICC World Test Championship.
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
India: Rohit Sharma (captain), R 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
“Whether we like it or not, these big series are where you look back at eras of cricket teams and judge their performances. That’s an exciting opportunity for us.... No doubt this will be the last Ashes away tour for a lot of the guys. Missing the first one (WTC final), this second one feels like it is a bit more significant. It is the only trophy that Australian cricket hasn’t won.”
“The last time we played (in the final) we made a few mistakes, which we’ve already spoken about in this group. It’s a good challenge to have and we know exactly what went wrong for us in the last Championship final, so hopefully we won’t repeat those kinds of things.”
“We’ve played the opposition a fair bit in the last two or three months so we know what they are capable of... the next five days will be quite challenging for us.”
“It will be nice to win some titles, some extraordinary series. Having said that, I genuinely feel we don’t want to put too much pressure on ourselves by over-thinking this kind of stuff.”
Broadcast details and commentators
In India, Star Sports network will show the English World Feed and provide regional coverage in Hindi, Tamil, Kannada and Telugu. Their digital platform Disney+ Hotstar will show live coverage of each day’s play. India’s public broadcaster Doordarshan will also carry live coverage of each day’s play via their DD Sports channel.
In Australia, the Test will be shown live on Channel 7 and its digital platform 7Plus. In the UK, Sky Sports will carry the live coverage via their Sky Sports Cricket channel
The commentary panel for match will include stalwarts of the game in Ravi Shastri, Ricky Ponting, Sunil Gavaskar, Matthew Hayden, Nasser Hussain, Justin Langer and Kumar Sangakkara. They will be joined by experienced broadcasters Harsha Bhogle and Alison Mitchell, alongside current cricketer Dinesh Karthik.
Play is scheduled to start at 10:30 local time in London on Wednesday (3.00 pm IST), with Monday scheduled as a reserve day should it be required.
While the conditions are expected to be better than the last final, there is rain predicted for Day 4 and Day 5, and the reserve day too for that matter.
Here’s a prediction from weather.com for the next 5/6 days in Kennington:
A reminder that the 2021 final indeed went to the reserve day, after plenty of rain interruptions in Southampton,
Steve Smith v Cheteshwar Pujara
Several members of Australia’s squad acclimatised to English conditions ahead of the final with stints at county sides but India batsman Cheteshwar Pujara found himself captaining fellow number three Steve Smith during the Australia star’s brief stint with Sussex.
Pujara, 35, enjoyed a purple patch for Sussex that included three hundreds in six innings in April and May, while the highest score Smith could manage was 89.
Smith, however, has a superb Test record at the Oval, averaging nearly 98, with two hundreds in three matches.
No wonder the 34-year-old described the Oval is “a wonderful place to play cricket in”.
“Lightning-fast outfield, the square goes the whole way across the ground so it is a nice place to bat when you get in and has some decent pace and bounce for an English surface,” he said.
Pujara, unlike Smith, is now a one-format player, such is the strength of India’s limited-overs sides, but his patient method of accumulating runs could prove valuable against a powerful Australia pace attack.
“Certainly we’ve had conversations with Puji, obviously about batting, but he also leads Sussex so he’s got a good handle on tactics and strategy,” said India coach Rahul Dravid.
Pat Cummins v Mohammed Shami
Australia captain Cummins and rival India pacer Shami will both have extra responsibility in the absence of injured quicks Hazlewood and Bumrah.
During the drawn 2019 Ashes series in England, the now 30-year-old Cummins led Australia’s attack with 29 wickets in five matches at a miserly average of 19.62.
Shami may not be able to boast similar figures, but at his best the experienced seamer gives India captain Rohit Sharma great control in the field.
Spin to win?
Australia off-spinner Nathan Lyon has been his country’s leading specialist slow bowler for more than a decade, with 482 Test wickets at an average of just over 31 apiece.
India counterpart R Ashwin is also closing in on 500 Test wickets, with 474 at 23.93.
India have sometimes been reluctant to play Ashwin in English conditions.
But a dry pitch expected to take turn could mean Ashwin, number one in the ICC Test bowling rankings, is deployed alongside left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja.
Ashwin has a fine Test record against Australia, with 114 wickets at an average of under 29, and he shared the player-of-the-series award with Jadeja in the home series win against Australia earlier this year.
With inputs from AFP and ICC Business Corporation FZ LLC 2020 via Online Media Zone