With the 16th season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) done and dusted, Team India will be shifting its focus to the big task at hand — that of facing Australia in the ICC World Test Championship final at The Oval starting next week.
After two months of slam-bang T20 action in what was one of the most enthralling seasons of the cash-rich league, the Indian cricketers will band together once again as they face the rigours of five-day cricket.
India aim to end the team’s decade-long wait for an ICC title as international cricket returns to the limelight after an extended period of franchise-based T20 cricket. The Rohit Sharma-led side will be backing itself to lift the trophy at the end of the game given they’re up against a side they have had the wood on in the red-ball format for nearly a decade.
In our build-up to the ‘Ultimate Test’ that begins on Wednesday, 7 June, we take a look at some of the concerns surrounding the Indian team as well as their possible solutions:
Rohit Sharma’s form
While India skipper and opener Rohit Sharma began the year on a confident note with the bat, collecting tons in the ODI series against New Zealand and in the Nagpur Test against Australia besides an 83 against Sri Lanka, his form has gradually tapered off since. Though a different format, Rohit looked especially out-of-touch during a sub-par run in the recent IPL, where his timing appeared to have deserted him among a host of other issues.
Rohit, though, will be seeking inspiration from his run with the bat the last time he was in England, finishing the top run-getter among the Indians with 368 runs at an average of 52.57 including a knock of 127 at the very venue where he will be facing the Aussie attack next week.
India’s record at The Oval
India don’t exactly have a very proud record when it comes to The Oval, which will be hosting the marquee clash this edition after Southampton’s Rose Bowl hosted the 2021 final between India and New Zealand, which the Black Caps ended up winning.
In the 14 Tests that they’ve played at this venue, India have won just two, lost five and drawn seven, making for a win percentage of just 14.39. Three of those five defeats were by an innings margin.
What will inspire the Indian team though, is the fact that they won their last encounter at this venue, defeating England in their memorable 2021 tour by 157 runs to go 2-1 up in the series.
Choosing the ideal wicket-keeper
India will also be greatly missing the services of Rishabh Pant, their talismanic wicket-keeper-batter who has produced a number of game-changing knocks in the SENA nations and has greatly improved his skills behind the stumps and also knows how to get under the skin of opposition batters.
Given that Pant is still recovering from a horrific car crash in December and is unlikely to make a return anytime soon, Team India will have to choose between Srikart Bharat and Ishan Kishan for the keeper’s slot. Bharat, who featured in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy earlier this year, is the better keeper while Kishan, who replaced KL Rahul in the squad, is a lot closer to Pant in terms of batting talent and could potentially made a defining impact in the middle order.
The Bharat vs Kishan tussle has even left experts divided. While former coach Ravi Shastri and ex-selector have backed Bharat, former Australia opener Matthew Hayden has gone with Kishan.
The third seamer
Besides Pant, Team India will also be missing out on pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah, who has been out of action since September last year due to a back problem. With Bumrah and Mohammed Shami sharing the new ball and Mohammed Siraj as the third seam option, India tore through the English batting unit in the 2021 tour.
In Bumrah’s absence, however, Shami and Siraj will be leading the attack. In such a scenario, the question of who will be filling in the role of the third seamer will be something that the leadership group will be discussing intensely. With Jaydev Unadkat also ruled out due to a shoulder injury, India’s options further narrow down to Shardul Thakur and Umesh Yadav. Thakur brings in his handy batting skills into the equation while Umesh is quicker and more effective a pacer.
Who Rohit Sharma and Co go with ultimately will come down to the composition and balance of the team.