WTC Final: India’s ‘fightless’ loss makes calls for transition

Twice in three years…India reached the finals of the World Test Championship (WTC), but couldn’t cross the line owing to a pretty mediocre performance at the big stage. The most disheartening fact was that we ended up losing against “them”,  our biggest arch-rivals. At the Oval, the Aussies first put up a gigantic total, from which India couldn’t recover, and the rest of the job was done by “ordinary and impatient” batting.

The Setup of the Big Stage

Most of the Indian players arrived in the UK for the Final, just after the IPL, especially Jadeja and Gill were the last to join the team because they had played in the Finals. So, it is no rocket science that it was going to be a challenge to adapt to the English conditions that too in the red ball. I had pointed out earlier too, that Aussies did have the upper hand as per the ‘cricketing’ logic, but also the fact remains that India has defeated a top Australian side in four consecutive series both home and away. So, it was all about adaptability to the conditions.

Rohit Sharma won the toss on the green-top wicket and opted to ball. Now, it was a very conservative call to make, most likely made just looking at some overcast conditions. However, his Australian counterpart Cummins also said that he would have opted for bowling too. But, more than the toss, the surprising factor was Ashwin’s exclusion. The pace attack was the only combination possible from the squad.

WTC Final 2023: Head and Smith run India ragged with huge stand on Day 1 -  The Hindu

Travis Head and Steve Smith went on an absolute carnage against the Indian bowling (Photo: The Hindu)

A mammoth total on inconsistent bowling

Banking on the conditions, Indian pacers started off on a solid note with Khwaja departing on duck followed by Warner and Labuschagne bringing the scorecard to 76-3. However, this was the BEST position that India held in the whole game, as everything that followed was just forgettable. The weather got sunny and the conditions became as good for batting. However, this can be no excuse for an extremely ordinary piece of bowling that was presented.

The best Aussie batter Steve Smith and in-form Travis Head went on a rampage. While the latter took on the bowlers aggressively (almost at the ODI strike rate) the former stuck with his usual approach. The Indian pacers missed their lengths consistently and hardly presented anything that was challenging for the duo. They went on to stitch a record 285-run partnership which ended only on the next day. Although, the bowlers did pose a comeback and wrapped up the Aussies from 360-3 to 469 all out. But the damage was done, 469 was a tad too much on the wicket and India had practically lost the game already.

WTC Final 2023: Twitter Applauds Ajinkya Rahane as He Narrowly Misses Out  on Ton

Ajinkya Rahane played a fighting knock in both innings (Photo: The Quint)

Disappointing Batting; Lacklustre Bowling

Now, the wicket was still good for batting and Indian batters should have capitalised on that. But…no. Gill and Rohit did play some good shots but got out in quick intervals. Pujara too got out soon in a similar style to Gill (leaving the ball only to see it crashing the stumps). A good-looking Virat too got trapped with a sizzling bouncer from Starc. From here, it looked very gloomy for India, but Rahane, who was making a comeback in the team rose to the occasion and batted brilliantly on the wicket with some eye-pleasing shots. He was well accompanied first by Jadeja (48) and then by Shardul (51). Rahane missed on a well-deserved ton and was dismissed on 89, but, his heroics took the Indian total to 296, avoiding the follow-on. But, India was still very much behind in the game.

Now, the only way for India to keep itself alive in the chase was to wrap the Aussie batting at 150-160 and then gobble for a chasable total. The bowlers started well again as the Aussies went from 24-2 to 124-5 with all prime batters in the pavilion. But, once again India did allow the game to slip out of hand. Even people like Carey and Starc posed solid partnership taking Australia to 270-8, where they declared giving India a mammoth total of 444 to chase. Jadeja did pick three but the pacers lacked that fire as a group. The fact that India couldn’t even bowl them out was a huge statement.

Virat Kohli’s dismissal at Oval; the moment it was all over for India (Photo: Firstsportz)

A Heartbreaking Chase

Everybody knows 444 is not chased in Test cricket. India needed to create history to lift the WTC Mace. It got the first blow when Shubman Gill was given out in a controversial call. The ball had clearly touched the ground, but well, Aussies can never get over their old habits. Yes, one call wouldn’t have changed the whole game, but still one should wonder why always Australia or England remain the beneficiaries in such decisions. It was followed by a settled Rohit getting out on a poor shot. Pujara who was looking in good touch, again threw away his wicket with a bad shot. From there, Virat and Rahane did rebuild the innings taking the team to 164-3 at the end of the penultimate day. Virat was looking extremely good, smashing the pacers all over the ground with his elegance, and giving all the positive vibes for an epic chase.

On the final day, the only player who could have taken India to the target was at the crease. But India’s all hopes were laid to rest when the ‘Chase Master’ ended up chasing a wide outside off delivery, only to nick it for a sharp catch to Steve Smith, who displayed some great reflexes. Jadeja getting out two balls later further strengthened Australia’s grip on the game. Rahane who had played really well got out on a flashy shot, showing how important it is to hold on to your concentration in Test cricket. Bharat never really looked settled as a batsman and the whole team was wrapped up at a mere 234 losing the game by a whopping margin of 209 runs. Australia riding on a complete team performance lifted the WTC mace becoming the only team to win each and every ICC event.

Australia lifts maiden WTC title - India Daily Digital

Australia lifted the WTC mace becoming the only team to win all ICC titles (Photo: India Daily Digital)

What cost us the Game?

After 2011, it seemed the era of Australia’s domination is over and the next era might be led by India. But since then Aussies have won 3 trophies, while we have just one. Something, we should think about.

Well…first of all. We took a very defensive call after winning the toss. Secondly, Aswin’s omission. This was despite the fact that the Opposition batting had as many as 5 left-handers and Ashwin holds a terrific record against the Aussies, especially their stalwart Smith (he literally knows each and every move). I already pointed out how the Pacers missed lengths consistently and failed to create the pressure that was required. At the same time, we have to keep one thing in mind. It is not our bowling, but our batting that eventually lost us the game.

The biggest disappointment for me was Pujara, who despite playing County cricket for the whole year couldn’t turn up when the team needed him the most. Rohit, I personally believe still deserves his spot in the team as ‘batter’. Rahane has literally given a new breath to his Test career. As a wicketkeeper, no one can fill the gap of Rishabh Pant, but Ishan Kishan is any day, a better choice than Bharat. The most heartbreaking dismissal was of course that of Virat Kohli. Well…I am out of words. He is too big a player to even hear my advice. He knows his position, responsibility and people’s expectations. Just remember what Sachin did in Australia when he was getting out on cover drives. The team needs much more from Virat as a player, and much less of those cryptic motivational quotes (on Instagram).

Points to Ponder

Well…not one, but the game has actually highlighted a number of points that Indian cricket needs to look forward to. Firstly, the Indian pace attack was something that we were taking huge pride in for quite some time. Especially, how the pace attack outshined the hosts even in SENA countries consistently. So, it is much of a concern looking at them without that ‘fire in the belly’. It’s not as if suddenly they have lost their skills, but the issue is that they are not able to collectively build that pressure as a unit.

I really don’t think Umesh and Shardul deserve their spots (we can’t select bowlers based on their batting). Yes, we are BADLY missing Bumrah, but it is also the time to mix in young raw pacers in the attack. Prasidh Krishna and Mukesh Kumar are two names banging the doors with their impressive domestic seasons. Plus, Umran Malik is the guy India needs to nurture to develop a match-winning rockstar. The rubbish SRH management failed to do justice to the ‘Next Big Thing’…but I hope BCCI doesn’t follow suit.

However, the bigger concern lies in the area of batting. I pointed it in the last blog too, that India’s batting average was just 23 even in home conditions. In overseas, India’s batting average is a mere 26, while its bowling average is 28. Now, you can understand the fact that our bowling has to put in those extra efforts because our batting falls below par. Even in the batting, our nice scores often consist of 1-2 good knocks from our tailenders (Jadeja, Ashwin, Shardul, Axar…even Shami-Bumrah that day).

So, it is the top batters who need to be scrutinised. There are names who are literally barging on the selection doors with their domestic performances; Abhimanyu Easwaran, Priyank Panchal, Sarfaraz Khan, Prithvi Shaw and even Suryakumar Yadav. I am not at all suggesting an overhaul. But, the time is ripe that we start mixing some of them in the batting unit. If we continue to ignore our batting woes which have been there for quite some time, we might enter a dire situation very soon, which of course, we don’t want.

WTC Final 2023 | India captain Rohit Sharma and coach Rahul Dravid rues IPL  for loss in WTC Final 2023 dgtl - Anandabazar

The Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid duo have been way too defensive so far (Photo: Anandabazar)

Transition is the Need of the Hour

Yes, India has failed to win an ICC Trophy for a decade, but the thing that swelled my chest with pride was the robust Test Unit India was. All this happened under the leadership of Virat Kohli. When he left the Test captaincy, I pointed out that time also, that was the worst possible time for him to resign. The team needed his leadership to carry out the transition in the team, bring in the new players and fill them up with that valour and hunger. The current leadership (in Tests) is far too defensive and conservative than what is required in today’s heavy and competitive game.

Rohit will most probably lead the team against West Indies next month. The next series after that is only in December (after the 2023 ODI WC) when India tours South Africa. So the leadership change can wait for now. But, we will have to start our preparations mentally. While Ashwin and Rahane are a bit too older now, Bumrah and Rahul are not ideal fits for me, and Virat won’t take the job back after his bitter exit. At this point, the best name in my mind who should lead the Test team is Rishabh Pant. He has the belief to take on any opposition and the hunger to make his team victorious. I am just hoping for his speedy recovery. At the same time, I am also hopeful that this Indian team who conquered Gabba and lifted Test Mace for five consecutive years will be back with a bang, as the formidable Test side it was and make ‘everyone’ pay back.




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