It was early and cold. By the time the Indian team arrived at the Oval on the eve of the World Test Championship final, the temperature had soared to 12 degrees Celsius. Got up because it was too cold before. The wind was blowing across the ground and Indian skipper Rohit Sharma looked like he had been dragged out of bed for the press conference. Perhaps getting up early can also count as a warm-up.
Talking about the pitch, the Indian skipper had his say: “I didn’t get a chance to see it today. The press conference was at 9.15, never thought it would be so early.
He said with a smile, he was joking, but the match starts at 10:30 am, 30 minutes earlier than usual. If the conditions remain as they are – read ‘cold, foggy and windy’ — India’s two-spinner theory will go out the window and they will have to play four pacers instead.
“Definitely looks like the seamers will have some help,” Sharma said. “With the overhead conditions, it’s going to help the seamers a little bit. I don’t know that the pitch changes a bit in this part of the world. When we played the last test here, it looked very similar. And as the game progressed, as the day went on, it slowly changed. On day 5 the reverse swing is activated. So, yes, we’re going to consider all those factors and see what’s the right combination for us to go with.
For now, India are keeping their cards close to their chest because, as Rohit said, “That’s a standard answer, I think.”
A little tongue-in-cheek, but a little chutzpah never hurt anyone. If anything, it lightens the mood. For India, the key may be experience; Experience, as bowlers, to take advantage of situations and experiences, as batters, to fight them.
Ajinkya Rahane (who celebrated his 35th birthday on Tuesday) rounds out the batting line-up well, likely to get the nod precisely because of his experience in these conditions. At his best, he was one of India’s most consistent and proven performers in overseas conditions. His away average of 40.28 is still higher than his home average of 35.73. The rest are virtually self-selecting.
Finding the combination
Shubman Gill and Sharma (who had a long stint in the nets) as openers, Cheteshwar Pujara at No.3, Virat Kohli at No.4 and Rahane at No.5.
Umesh looks to have an edge over Jaydev Unadkat in the bowling department. It’s not much, but Umesh has played two Tests in England and Unadkat has played none. Two in 56 Tests in a career that began in 2011.
The big question will be whether to play three or four seamers. As Sharma said, conditions can change during the game. In the last match India played at the venue, the ball reverse-swinged on the fifth day. If India decide to go for four, Shardul Thakur will get a look-in not only in his bowling but also in his batting.
“We can wait until tomorrow; Because one thing I have seen here is that the pitch is actually changing day by day,” Sharma said. “So, the message to the boys is very clear, all 15 should be ready to play at any time. We will see the conditions tomorrow and decide who will be in that playing 11.
It was an optional nets session and very few players actually braved the conditions. Prashar, R Ashwin, KS Bharath, Umesh Yadav and Yashaswi Jaiswal were also there. The rest stayed in their hotel rooms, where they would all be part of the team meeting later. It was a short, light session, but the team stayed true to the prize.
Much of the talk on the ground and in the presser has been about India’s lack of ICC trophies in the last decade. ‘They have the money, but where are the trophies?’ They say. ‘Can you imagine losing another one?’ Another wondered aloud. ‘If they lose the reaction won’t be big,’ said another. There have been questions for some time. And the answers. When Dravid was asked about this on Monday, a question was also thrown Sharma’s way.
“Look, we know what we have won and what we haven’t,” Sharma said. “There is no point in thinking about it again and again. We were asked the same question last year when we went to Australia for the T20 World Cup and I answered the same question.
“The players know when India have won and when they have not. I don’t think it’s right to think about it again and again. You should focus on the situation and how we can do better. There is no point in thinking about what has happened and what will happen in the future. It is very important to think about the present. Our team is focused on how to win this match.
An oversimplified textbook version of the strategy would be to bat well and bowl well. But it’s the little things that make a difference. Matches to exploit, sessions to play, counter-attacks to push the opposition back. Above all, it boils down to trust in their abilities and methods.
“The next five days will be quite challenging for us, giving us a chance to win the championship, but we understand that winning the championship is not easy,” Rohit said. “You have to do a lot of things right to win. Now, the focus is only on how we can reach the top. So, discussions and preparations revolve around that. I am someone who always believes in focusing on what is in front of you, what will happen in the future, rather than thinking about what kind of things to do.
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