ICC WTC Final 2023: Neutral venue the X-factor as India, Australia renew rivalry

The World Test Championship final between India and Australia is set to begin on June 7 at The Oval in Kennington, London

Rohit Sharma (left) and Pat Cummins, the rival captains of India and Australia respectively, at a photo call at The Oval, London.
Rohit Sharma (left) and Pat Cummins, the rival captains of India and Australia respectively, at a photo call at The Oval, London.

Gautam Bhattacharyya

There is certainly an extra buzz about the second World Test Championship (WTC) final starting on Wednesday — compared to the one two years back — and it’s not difficult to see why.

While an almost identical Indian squad, albeit under a different regime was present in 2021 at the Rose Bowl in Hampshire, it was a set of low-profile, efficient Black Caps who had turned the tables on them. Compare that to a match-up between India and Australia, and the historic Kennington Oval in London for a venue, and the hype explains itself.

In what is a winner-takes-all match, which creates the perfect context for a battle in the longest format of the game which is fighting for survival now, the stakes are skyhigh. While Indian coach Rahul Dravid sought to downplay how anxious Rohit Sharma & co will be to end their drought of a ICC title since 2013, Pat Cummins and his men will look to settle scores in neutral conditions and also earn a timely boost ahead of the Ashes in England from mid-June.     

"No, not at all. I mean we don’t feel any pressure in terms of trying to win an ICC trophy. Of course it would be nice to do it. It would be certainly nice to be able to win an ICC tournament. But also in the context of things, you look at this and you see this is the culmination of two years of work," Rahul Dravid said at a media conference on Monday.

Much to the credit of the current Indian group in recent years, they have turned the tables on the once invincible Baggy Greens in back-to-back away series, before following it up with a 2-1 series win at home barely few months back.

However, it will be a completely different ballgame on a fresh wicket at The Oval with a hint of green — not to speak of the early summer when the Duke ball is expected to wobble for long stretches during the day.

There will be a fair amount of bounce too, as per reports from the ground, and it’s only natural that the media had been building it up as a battle between Indian batters and their rival pace attack.  The top five of the Indian batting line-up is the same as the last final with skipper Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane — while the ifs and buts surface from there onwards.

The wheel has actually come a full circle for Pujara and Rahane, the two seasoned middle order batters who were left out in the cold by the team management early last year. It would have been a serious dilemma for Dravid if both of KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer were fit but for now, a lot depends on these veterans. Pujara, in fact, had been the go-to man for Dravid for valuable inputs as he had been camping in England to play County cricket for Sussex — scoring runs aplenty and captaining the side.

While a number of TV pundits (read: Ravi Shastri, Ricky Ponting) feel that Australia may have a slight edge, it will eventually boil down to who grabs the early initiative on first day. The trio of Cummins, canny left-armer Mitchell Starc, Scott Boland and allrounder Cameron Green will form their pace attack – though there is a feeling that barring Green (who was playing IPL), the lead bowlers could be a bit undercooked as they didn’t play any international cricket in last three months.

The familiar doubts in the Indian camp persist on a few tricky choices, K.S. Bharat or Ishan Kishan as the keeper (though the dice is loaded in favour of the former), go for both spinners Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja or find a place for a seaming allrounder like Shardul Thakur.

Let’s wait and watch and hope that the weather holds…

Catch the match

WTC Final (June 7-11, reserve day on June 12)

India vs Australia

Kennington Oval, London

Match starts at 3:00 PM IST

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