WTC Final: Barbs will continue, but did India prepare well enough?
The Indian fans may have got unduly optimistic about their chances of pulling off a historic chase on a fifth day wicket, but they could have at least held their heads high with a show of character
The angst at India’s spineless batting display against Australia, and a defeat in the second World Test Championship (WTC) final on the trot – is quite overpowering at the moment. From the former greats to social media to man on the street, there has been a no-holds-barred attack on a campaign where very little went right for Rohit Sharma and his men.
The wrath is largely directed at the top order – Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane – for their poor shot selection in the second innings which undid all their good work from the second to the fourth day. Yes, the Indian fans may have got unduly optimistic about their chances of pulling off a historic chase on a fifth day wicket, but they could have at least held their heads high with a greater show of character.
The talk is now revolving around a need for change in the blueprint for Test matches, a muted call for a change in leadership in the longer format while the disillusionment with coach Rahul Dravid is no longer exactly muted now. The question that is begging to be asked of ‘The Wall’ is even with him around for more than one and-a-half years, how come none of his famous resilience and discipline could be transmitted to some of the biggest names in modern cricket?
‘’I’m never going to be happy with the preparations as a coach. But that’s the reality I’m ready to accept, and we all have to accept. The schedules are so cramped and tight. These guys know … if you are playing international cricket, and if you are here three weeks before the tour, playing two side games, you are going to be better prepared,’’ a visibly frustrated Dravid said on Sunday.
Is he leaving a cue there for the powers that-be? We will never know, but it’s a proven fact that the ecosystem in Indian cricket is not ready any longer to pay Test cricket the respect it demands – and paid the price for it again. It does not take a Ricky Ponting to point out that the Indians had not prepared well enough for this winner-takes-all game, while Sharma’s suggestion that the WTC Final should be a best-of-three affair could not be more ill-timed.
There are enough examples in modern cricket of an honesty of purpose when it comes to preparing for the key Test battles overseas. The lure of the IPL can be somewhat irresistible for the international cricketers, but they are the best judge of their bodies and take a call on the need to be physically and mentally fresh for the rigour.
The likes of Steve Smith, Pat Cummins – both of whom had been the IPL regulars – stayed away from the 2023 auction as it’s an Ashes year while their senior paceman Mitchell Starc had stayed away from the cash-rich league for more than five seasons to prolong his international careers.
They had clearly laid down their priorities but for all the talk of workload management, the Indian stars are not known to take any such hard decisions. Just ponder this – Mohammed Shami, the thirty-something leader of the pace attack in Jasprit Bumrah’s absence, had been crisscrossing the country for two months and was bowling in the emotional cauldron of the IPL final even little over a week back. Shardul Thakur was candid enough to say that he did not have enough match practice in bowling in the IPL while Umesh Yadav – a controversial choice ahead of off spinner Ravi Ashwin – was carrying a niggle throughout the IPL and looked rusty at The Oval.
There could be a counter-point that Cheteshwar Pujara, who spent the last months in County championship, could hardly bring anything to the table and perished in trying to play an uncharacteristic ramp shot during the chase. While it is untenable to shift the IPL window, a money spinner for the world cricket economy, it’s basically the players and the management who need to set their priorities right.
India players are consoling themselves with the fact that they had been consistent enough in both cycles of the WTC so far to make both the Finals, but is that a good enough excuse? It’s a question better left for the fans to answer!