Digging deeper into India’s WTC loss

With India already missing Jasprit Bumrah, Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer due to injuries, leaving out Ashwin didn’t make any sense, especially with Australia having five left-handed batters…writes Niharika Raina

In the run-up to the 2023 World Test Championship final between Australia and India at The Oval, many former players like Ricky Ponting and Wasim Akram had given a slight edge to the Pat Cummins-led side to lift the coveted mace.

On June 11, just a little after noon in London, they were indeed proved right as Cummins & Co beat India by 209 runs to be the WTC winners for the very first time and complete their set of ICC trophies, making them the first side in men’s international cricket to do so.

For India, it was the second straight time they came runners-up in the WTC final after 2021, with the art of winning knockout games slowly becoming a lost heritage. But for its huge number of fans, it was back to familiar feelings as the 2023 WTC final entered the list of tournaments from which India came without an ICC title.

IANS looks at reasons behind India’s crushing finale loss at The Oval and with the new WTC cycle starting next month, what they need as a transition era looms over the team.

Ashwin selection call

One of the wise pieces of advice cricket has ever got is to go on the field with your best cricketers, barring injuries coming into play. That advice also means that you got to pick your best batters and bowlers. At The Oval, India chose to leave out ace off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, the top-ranked Test bowler with 474 scalps, who had previously picked a six-fer at the venue while playing for Surrey in 2021.

When the match was on, one sensed that India missed the trick by not playing him on seeing the bit of assistance the pitch provided to Ravindra Jadeja and Nathan Lyon. Irrespective of whether conditions could have been, not playing your best spinner in a prestigious clash for the title is a big mystery which has left many, including the legendary Sachin Tendulkar, baffled.

Though Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj were excellent with the ball, the efforts of Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur as third and fourth pacers were less than desired of what the team would have liked them to be.

With India already missing Jasprit Bumrah, Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer due to injuries, leaving out Ashwin didn’t make any sense, especially with Australia having five left-handed batters.

No response to being pushed on backfoot from day one

To be very honest, the result of the WTC final was decided on day one of the game itself. India elected to bowl first and were playing catch up throughout the match despite batting fightback from Ajinkya Rahane and Shardul Thakur in first innings.

India were excellent in the first hour, keeping Australia in check at 29/1 in 12 overs and taking out David Warner. But after that, as the bowlers changed, so did the game. From there, there was no stopping Australia as they reached 327/3 at stumps and eventually made 469.

Not being tight in tactics also played a part in India being pushed on backfoot right on day one. India bowled in strong areas of Travis Head, giving him the room to take boundaries quickly apart from rotating strike easily and bowling just one short ball to him in his first 29 balls. By the time the short-ball ploy to cramp him for room came, Head was already past 90 and got his hundred in no time.

Top-order failures come to the fore

Just like many times in the past, the batting problem of India’s top-order came back to hit them hard on a big stage, yet again, unable to even touch 300 in both innings. Rohit Sharma couldn’t replicate his stunning run in the 2021 tour of England in both innings. Shubman Gill is yet to look comfortable in playing Tests in England.

Cheteshwar Pujara, despite two months of county cricket for Sussex, couldn’t thrive in what was to be familiar conditions for him. Virat Kohli gave the feeling of going for a long stay at the crease, but flattered to deceive in his fifth tour of England by falling to the wide ball trap in second innings. Apart from Kohli dismissal shot in second innings, the shot selection in both innings left many legends of the game baffled.

Co-incidentally, the top-order from the WTC 2021 final was also featuring in the 2023 finale, which shows that nothing has changed in the lack of runs from top-order despite the personnel being the same.

Maybe it’s the right time for introducing some freshness in the top-order (like Yashasvi Jaiswal) as well as in middle-order, and look beyond the highly-experienced folks by rewarding performers of Ranji Trophy and India A tours.

Fast bowlers with more depth and control

In the last few years, a big part of India’s overseas success came from the fast-bowling unit, making Bumrah, Shami, Siraj, and Umesh Ishant Sharma the envy of the cricketing world.

But with Bumrah injured due to recurring back injury and doubts over whether he would be playing consistent Test cricket in future as well as Ishant being phased out, India’s fast-bowling unit suddenly looks thin on depth.

Shami and Siraj are certainties, but are people like Umesh, Thakur and Jaydev Unadkat seen as sure starters, especially when India take the field in their next WTC cycle assignment in West Indies? Umesh and Thakur lacked penetration and control with the ball, allowing Australia to run away with the game.

On-field things aside, India have also been unlucky on the fitness part too. Apart from Bumrah, Prasidh Krishna has been out for long due to back injury.

There’s no word on development of Navdeep Saini, Kamlesh Nagarkoti (he’s down with back injury too), Ishan Porel, Umran Malik, Arshdeep Singh, Avesh Khan, Shivam Mavi and Kartik Tyagi in longer format, who can also provide some runs with the bat.

Overall, all these factors show that there are a lot of problems in the Indian Test team which need urgent attention to solve. There is a lack of vision for the future for developing lethal and consistent fast bowlers as well as batters, which the opposition will fear too.

That also includes organising A tours regularly and appointing a chief of selectors, which also plays a role in teams winning big titles consistently. Otherwise, the mistakes from 2023 will continue to repeat endlessly, leading to more heartbreak for the Indian team and its ever-loyal fans in ICC tournaments.

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