CLOSE-IN: India's sight is fixed on WTC Final. A win would be a crowning glory to honour the 1971 side
The announcement of the Indian team to play in the World Test Championship (WTC) Final, starting on June 7 at the Kensington Oval in London, turned out to be an insipid affair.
The only surprise was the inclusion of Ajinkya Rahane, a middle-order batter with plenty of experience. Although a cricketer's performance in the Indian Premier League (IPL) is talked about as never one to be considered for an India selection, one can take that comment with a pinch of salt.
The recent parade of newly-crowned Indian players in the last decade has all emerged through their super performance in the IPL. Ajinkya, a seasoned performer at the highest level of the game, was languishing in the domestic circuit, after having been dropped from the Indian Test side, and this is a good example of his resurgence through the IPL.
The word "transformation" has taken the corporate world by storm. The famous word indicates that if a company does not transform and adapt to the fast-moving world of today, then its' future is in jeopardy. Ajinkya, an intelligent and serious-thinking cricketer, one that most franchisees ignored during the IPL auction, made clever changes and transformations to his game to get one and all to sit up in admiration.
One never doubted his technique and with his positive stroke play and mental approach, that he exhibited in his initial innings of the IPL, he catapulted himself into becoming the front-runner for the middle-order batting slot in the Test side from where he was dethroned.
Unfortunately, the cricketer who suffered was his Mumbai colleague, Sarfaraz Khan, who having scored oodles of runs in the domestic tournaments, failed to showcase his superlative form in the IPL and so came through a cropper.
In India, we boast of a cupboard full of talented cricketers. The bench strength is looked at as one that can quite easily have two international-quality sides. This definitely seems a misnomer, as the squad which was chosen in 2021, is more or less the same bunch of batters and bowlers that have been chosen in 2023.
The worrying aspect of Indian cricket is the regular occurrence of injuries. The irony of it is that once they get injured, most of the cricketers never seem to recover from it very soon. One is, therefore, happy to see Ravindra Jadeja looking fit and fast after his knee surgery. India have two International class all-rounders in Ravindra Jadeja and Hardik Pandya. Fortunately, the former has bounced back whereas the latter has already accepted his fate of not being fit to play the longer format of the game.
India, in their second attempt at the coveted trophy, having lost the last final against New Zealand in 2021, have their sights focused on winning it this time around.
India have in the last three Test series against Australia at home and away beaten them. The odds do favour the Indian side on paper, however, the grit and determination of an Australian side can never be underestimated.
India, one feels, has a formidable side which will take the field to play Australia in the WTC Final. Openers Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill are two of the finest stroke players in the world. The latter is developing into becoming a star batter in the mode of Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli. The Oval Test would be just the platform for Gill to establish himself as the king in waiting.
Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane are a middle-order line-up that any side would be proud to have. One feels India will strengthen their batting line-up by including K.L. Rahul as the wicketkeeper and a batman who has proven to have the skill to match the best.
India's bowling is their strength. The weather in early June in London is normally cold and damp. India have the pace bowlers to exploit these conditions in the two Mohammeds --Shami and Siraj -- and the option of Umesh Yadav if required. The problem that may arise is whether India should go in with Axar Patel as the 3rd spinner or play Shardul Thakur as the only pace-bowling all-rounder. The latter to me will get the nod as the conditions will favour swing rather than spin.
In England, especially in June, good close catching in the slip region is as essential a requirement as any. India have three outstanding slip fielders in their line-up -- the young Shubman Gill, who looks very comfortable standing there, and the proven Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli. In Ravindra Jadeja, India boasts of the best outfielder in world cricket at present. Therefore, one feels that India have their fielding issues well covered.
The Oval in England has been a lucky venue for India in the past. The 1971 Test series win against England was one of India's grandest cricket moments. The balcony wave of India's match-winning bowler, B.S. Chandrashekar, and the captain Ajit Wadekar with thousands of Indian fans below was as proud a moment as when Kapil Dev lifted the World Cup in 1983 at the Lord's. India beating West Indies in the West Indies earlier and England beating Australia in Australia made India the unofficial Champion Test side then.
Rohit Sharma and his side have a big task to emulate the 1971 Indian side. The victory then was seen as the renaissance of Indian cricket and a victory now would be just the crowning glory to honour it.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer. The views expressed are personal)