WTC Final: Can Indian Batsmen Cope With The Green And Bouncy Oval Pitch?

(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Published: Wed 7 Jun 2023, 12:27 AM

Eighteen years ago, this reporter was filing the curtain raiser for an India-Pakistan Test match at the Eden Gardens press box when something unusual grabbed the attention.

In the fading lights less than 15 hours before the start of that Test match, four men in white flannels were standing beside the pitch.

They were staring at the giant empty stands of one of the world's most iconic cricket stadiums.

Those four men were not cricketers - they were policemen from the Kolkata Metropolitan City Police, protecting the scared 22 yards strip from a possible attack by some fringe elements that had threatened to destroy the pitch.

No incidents happened in the match featuring cricket's two biggest and bitter rivals.

But over the next five days, there were several intense battles between the bat and the ball on that perfect Test match pitch - Rahul Dravid produced sublime hundreds in both innings, Mohammad Sami, the tearaway Pakistani fast bowler, delivered a masterclass in the art of hostile short-pitched bowling and Anil Kumble conjured yet another unplayable spell on a fifth-day wicket.

That was Test cricket at its pinnacle.

Now fast forward to 2023, we have a World Test Championship final between India and Australia that starts on Wednesday at the Oval in London.

There are no policemen to guard the pitch at the Oval, but the grass on it has sent shivers down the spine of every Indian fan.

It's a pitch where the ball would swing and bounce - the kind of surface that would bring a smile to the faces of Australian pacers Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Scott Boland, who has come in the place of the injured Josh Hazlewood.

The Indians are no slouch with the new ball, and even without the injured Jasprit Bumrah, the attack featuring Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj is good enough to give the Aussies a run for their money.

But the nature of the surface will keep the Indian think tank on the edge of its seat.

Ravichandran Ashwin was ineffective two years ago in the inaugural edition of the WTC final against New Zealand in Southampton when the Indians misread the pitch and went with two spinners.


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India was blown away by the five-man Kiwi pace attack as New Zealand went on to lift the ICC Test Mace.

It's the team combination again that the Indians are unable to decide on.

Would they go again with two spinners, Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, or with a four-pronged pace attack?

Ashwin's smiles on Tuesday failed to hide his disappointment when he had a chat with Leez, the Oval pitch curator.

"Can we expect a nice and bouncy Brett Lee pitch?" Ashwin asked Leez.

"It will be bouncy. That's one thing I can guarantee. It will be bouncy," the curator replied.

"Why are you pushing me away?" Ashwin joked.

But Indian skipper Rohit Sharma has some serious concerns about whether his batsmen, who were playing T20 cricket until a couple of weeks ago, would rise to the challenge of facing a formidable Australian Test match attack on a tricky surface.

His batsmen were stunned by the bounce on the practice wickets, and a few of them were even hit by the short ball.

The Oval pitch, though, has a history of changing its colour during the course of a Test match.

And Rohit has fond memories of this famous ground, having scored a brilliant second innings hundred to set up India's 157-run win against England in 2021.

"When we played the last Test match here at the Oval, it (the pitch) looked very similar to this and then as the game went on, it got better and better and slower and slower, then the reverse-swing came into play on the fifth day," Rohit said on Tuesday.

But for this Test match to last the distance, the batters have to bat out of their skin on this pitch to allow the fast bowlers to use their reverse swinging skills on Day Four and Day Five.

Both teams possess batsmen with remarkable skills.

But which set of batters will adapt better to the challenge of facing the swinging Dukes ball on a bouncy wicket in the first innings?

The answer to that question may well lead us to the winner of this contest.

WTC final

India vs Australia

June 7-11

Oval, London

Match starts at 1:30 pm UAE Time


Australia (likely): 1 David Warner, 2 Usman Khawaja, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Travis Head, 6 Cameron Green, 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Pat Cummins (capt), 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Scott Boland.

India (possible): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Shubman Gill, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Ravindra Jadeja, 7 KS Bharat/Ishan Kishan (wk), 8 R Ashwin/Shardul Thakur, 9 Umesh Yadav/Jaydev Unadkat, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Mohammed Siraj.


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