The World Test Championship – these four words are good music to many from my generation who always feel that ‘Test cricket is the best cricket’! WTC final 2023 is just two days away when I am writing, and although this is a second final, the excitement is more than the first one for a few reasons. The last time the WTC final was played between India and New Zealand was COVID time; honestly, the entire final looked dull. Not because India lost that Test, but because the time was all about sadness and gloom that made that game dull.
But this time, the WTC final will be played between two of the most exciting Test cricket teams of the current era. Only The Ashes can match the excitement of The Border – Gavaskar Trophy, and what will happen in the next few weeks is that the English Test summer will taste both the ultimate Test series. After Australia and India’s one-off Test for the WTC final to be played at The Oval, there will be five Ashes Tests to be played in England; mouth-watering stuff. We only need to focus on the WTC final right now, so let’s discuss it only.
WTC Final 2023 Preview
Team India looked much more robust on paper during the last World Test Championship final than the New Zealand team. Although the conditions at Southampton were more in favour of the Kiwis, India still had that power that could win them that game, which was the general thought among the fans. But, at the end of that game, one can say that New Zealand easily won it. This time it looks like Australia and India have equal chances to win this one-off Test, and we are in for some exciting four to five days.
Some of the pundits say that Australia has a slight but definite edge over India, but I feel that both teams will be even-stevens when the toss is happening. As per those experts, Australia is slightly ahead of India because they have better pace attacks, and the game will be played in English conditions. But when you look at the Indian pace attack with Mohammad Shami, Mohammad Siraj, and Umesh Yadav, you would think there is hardly any difference in quality between the two teams.
I would have a special mention for Mohammad Shami here. We have noticed that playing for the Gujarat Titans in the recently concluded IPL 2023, Shami was consistently bowling the ‘Test line and length’, making him the most successful bowler in the tournament. Shami has to do the same at The Oval he did for the last two months. If he does that successfully, then who knows?
But that doesn’t mean that the Aussie bowlers will give us the cakewalk, definitely not! Captain Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Cameron Green, and Scott Boland can be destructive any day. Just like Shami, I would also have a special mention for Scott Boland. How he bowled against England at the MCG in 2021 was extraordinary. He may not look expressive at the outset, but he can be lethal with accuracy. Indian batters need to take care of Boland more than anything else.
Indian and Australia both come with a good number of spinners. However, Indian spinners like Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, and Axar Patel can also bat, whereas Nathan Lyon and Todd Murphy Aussies got pure off-spinners. With English conditions in mind, seeing how many spinners both teams will take in their starting XI will be fascinating.
Selecting a good batting lineup should be the most straightforward job for both Rohit Sharma and Pat Cummins on the match day. India will have Rohit, Shubhman, Pujara, Kohli, and Rahane, whereas Australia will start with Warner and Khawaja and then Labuschange, Smith, and Green. To be honest, both batting lineups can be called heavy-duty batting lineups.
Regarding all-rounders, Cameron Green will be an automatic choice for the Aussies, whereas Team India has to choose between Ashwin, Jadeja, and Axar. It will be a bit challenging to left out anyone out of those three, but to get the right balance, either Jadeja or Axar can play in the playing XI as being an off-spinner and good at Test match batting, Ashwin will take the place of his own. Although Axar troubled Aussies more with his batting than bowling when Aussies were here earlier this year, I believe the experience will favour Jadeja to be in the playing XI.
Selecting wicket-keepers will be a simple choice for both teams because Carey and Bharath are sure to play in this Test. Ishan Kishan’s temperament is still questioned, so one would believe that KS Bharath should be an automatic choice for Team India.
So here are my XIs for the WTC Final 2023
Australia: David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschange, Steven Smith, Cameron Green, Alex Carey (WK), Pat Cummins (C), Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc, Todd Murphy, Scott Boland.
India: Rohit Sharma (C), Shubhman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, KS Bharat (WK), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Mohammad Siraj, Mohammad Shami
Conditions at The Oval
Last night I was watching a special show on WTC Final 2023 in which Harsha Bhogle hosted Ravi Shastri, Ricky Ponting, Wasim Akram, Ross Taylor, Ian Bell, Rohit Sharma, and Pat Cummins. In that program, it was revealed that after 1880 this would be the first time a Test match would happen at The Oval in June. This is a fantastic fact any cricket lover would never be encountered. We usually witness that only the last Test of any five Test match series hosted by England is being played at The Oval, and it is in August.
Then, it is kind of an end of the season, and the pitch of The Oval has that distinct white colour that gives enough to the batters for the first three days, and on the fourth and the fifth day, it is not only turning but also gives assistance to reverse the ball. But this is June, and even ECB has never ‘dared’ to host a Test at The Oval in the last 143 years, which is very significant. This will throw more uncertainty in players’ minds because this will not be the usual stuff at The Oval, which is to win the toss and bat first.
In that same program Ian Bell, who played 100+ Tests for England, said that generally, at The Oval, if there is an overcast condition, then the ball will ‘do a bit’, and if there is sun out there, then it will be a paradise for the batters. The forecast for this final, except for Saturday, which will be the fourth day of the Test, is sunny. So, if we go with Ian Bell’s words, The Oval, even in June, can produce a high-scoring game. By the way, Cheteshwar Pujara has been playing for Sussex for the last two months, and he must have some input for his fellas on how The Oval pitch will behave, which will be an added advantage for Team India.
Which team is the favourite to win WTC Final 2023?
As I have mentioned above, both teams are equally favourites to win this Final. If Ian Bell’s views are to be considered, India should win this because the conditions will remain sunny for most of the five days. If India bats first and makes a decent score, then their spinners in, Ashwin and Jadeja, can create problems for the Aussies in their second innings. We know how Nathan Lyon and Todd Murphy troubled Indian batters when they were here for the BGT just a few months ago.
Most of the Aussie players are fresh and Indian players have just finished two months-long Indian Premier League, which could go either way. Because most Australian players haven’t played serious or competitive cricket for almost two months and have come directly to play, such an important game can go against them. For Indians playing fast cricket in Indian conditions, changing the gear for the slow and demanding conditions can be challenging to adjust.
Team India should remember that they have to win this Test to claim that they are the World Test Champions because they are in the second position in the points table. So, if Australia manages even a draw, then they will be crowned as champions. So, right from the word go, Team India has to play for a win.
But, being a biased Team India supporter, I always wish my team success. It would be a proud moment for me to see my team win the World Test Championship final as I have seen them winning three world cup finals and one Champions Trophy final, and this will be the last and probably the most savoured moment for me.
So, All the best, Team India!
That’s all from me today, till we meet next time it’s Aavjo!
5th June 2023, Monday