CLOSE-IN: India needed to play a few practice games before WTC Final (IANS column)

The final of the World Test Championship between Australia and India is presently being played at the Kennington Oval in London. The two top teams of World cricket are battling for The Mace, a specially crafted trophy, for the biggest prize in cricket.

It has been two long years of playing Test series against several rivals that have culminated in an India versus Australia summit clash.

The World Test Championship (WTC) is a very good initiative by the ICC to revive and recognize the true cricket champion.

In the past, one did various permutations and combinations to unearth the leading side. The mighty West Indies ruled the roost in the late 70s and early 80s, whereas, the fighting Australians brought in their rights to be called a champion side at the turn and early years of the century.

Thereafter, the claim to be the best, oscillated between a handful of cricket-playing nations, most performing exceptionally well only at home.

The WTC, however good it may be, needs to be structured better. The cramped international calendar has made it difficult for teams to play each and every Test-playing nation. This itself leaves a huge question mark and thoughts to ponder over. A good example of it is that India, having reached the final of both the editions of the Test Championships, have never played Pakistan in a Test series. For both these sides, one does not need to have a home and away series, but, one at a neutral venue.

A championship becomes authentic only if all the top Test-playing sides come into play and have an equal opportunity to prove their worth. A good way to solve this would be to have a three-year cycle rather than a two-year one. The idea is not to complete a tournament for the sake of it, but, for it to be more conclusive and convincing.

A one-match final, especially in England, leaves a lot up to the weather gods. The inaugural championship final, due to an extra day, managed a New Zealand victory in the earlier final. However, fortunately, the WTC’23 final has got underway without a heavenly intrusion until now. Apparently, rain has been predicted to play a part during the weekend and India, in the position that they are in at present, would be praying to “Indra”, the God of rain to save them from a possible defeat.

This brings one to a few points to think about. One is that the championship should be played to the finish. The other is that the team that gets the 1st innings lead wins in an eventuality of a draw. However, the most prudent way would be to have a three-match final and the team that heads the league table should be the winner in the event of a drawn series.

Sharing a World championship trophy on account of a draw is definitely not an exciting conclusion, either for the cricketers or the followers.

A championship needs a victor. The penalty kicks in World Cup football and the penalty shoot-out in hockey are two good examples in sports of a good way to conclude if there is no result.

The ongoing WTC Final has shown how exciting and demanding Test cricket is. India, on a cloudy day, like many sides in the past in England, opted to field, especially as they had four seamers to exploit the conditions. The battle that ensued between the Australian batters and the Indian pacers was thrilling.

Patience, determination, concentration and an element of luck were what kept the top-order Australian batsmen in the fray. One forgot the strike and run rate as survival was the name of the game. Finally, hard work pays and Australia came through brilliantly with centuries scored by Steve Smith and Travis Head. Both of them combined to put the Indian bowlers at bay, who had to bowl more than they had ever bargained or practised for.

The Indian Premier League (IPL) may be a good indicator to recognize talent, however, a five-day Test match is entirely a different ball game. India, have still got three more days to get back into the game. In cricket, a game is not won or lost till the last ball is bowled.

The Indian players needed to get acclimatized to the conditions in England. India made this very mistake when they played the inaugural WTC Final against New Zealand and seemed to have blundered again because of their commercially beneficial IPL commitments.

India, needed to play a few practice games before being subjected to a one-match decider. The length to bowl or adjustment required to bat against the best, are areas where a player needs time to master. Unfortunately, the Indian bowlers looked less prepared, although each one of them have the skill to exploit the conditions.

A cloudy sky overhead in England is one that a batter is always worried about. Rohit Sharma, as the captain and an opener must have thought quite seriously about whether to expose his batters to conditions which have been the reason for India’s downfall in the past. His decision was quite understandable, however, with sunshine soon after, his morning bloom turned to gloom.

Steve Smith is a player one admires. He has proved that Test cricket is not about fancy strokes but one which requires a system and planning to be effective. He has structured his game accordingly and shown that he is one of the best in the trade.

Travis Head has done exceedingly well recently, however, he has a definite weakness to the short bouncing deliveries to his body. India found this out later in the day and even after crossing a century, he looked uncomfortable against the pace of Md. Siraj. The future for Head will be a barrage of short deliveries henceforth, one that he will need to conquer in the future.

India, have an uphill task at present. A bit of assistance from the weather and some resolute batting can still keep them in the hunt to uphold the “Mace” jointly.

(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer. The views expressed are personal)

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