It ought to have been a clash of equals, but the unavailability of key players for India could hobble them
Two staunch rivals in India and Australia will compete in the prestigious World Test championship final at The Oval next month.
As it should be, this is a hard match to predict. That’s mainly because of injury concerns and neither team having played a Test since completing a hard-fought series earlier this year. To make matters even more difficult, many of the players involved have only competed in the IPL in the lead-up to the one-off Test.
While this may not seem to be the ideal preparation, it’s worth recalling the opinion of former England batter Ravi Bopara. In 2009, Bopara went from the fledgling IPL into a Test series against West Indies and reckoned he was ideally prepared because T20 got his feet moving and put him in a positive frame of mind.
Heft was given to that view because Bopara reeled off successive Test centuries. The modern cricketer regularly has to adapt, going from one format to another, so Bopara’s theory should be even more applicable.
Therefore expect the players, especially the batters, to be ready for the Test. It’s up to the bowlers to prepare specifically for the longer spells required in the five-day format.
If Australia’s classy pace trio of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood are available, that makes them slight favourites. They are good bowlers any time, but England in early June should be right up their alley. Nevertheless, an Indian pace attack containing Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj and Umesh Yadav is also strong and only just behind the Australian trio in wicket-taking capability.
Mental strength will play a huge part in this Test. The team that displays the most resilience is likely to win as long as the contest is not unduly affected by bad weather. Being able to maintain a decent line and length under attack is now mandatory in the tougher series, and a fully fit Australian attack should benefit if the opposition are overzealous.
The injuries to Jasprit Bumrah and Rishabh Pant badly affect India. They would be outright favourites with these two playing
Therefore much will depend on how the batters treat the talented opposing pace attacks. Australia rely heavily on Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne and Usman Khawaja’s big scoring ability but the enigmatic David Warner shouldn’t be overlooked. Despite his struggles in England, Warner is a dangerous player because he can score quickly. If he gets a start, India need to be wary because of the danger Warner presents.
On the Indian side Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara are a handful because they have enjoyed success in Test cricket. Their job will be tough against a strong Australian attack.
The Australian bowlers also need to pay careful attention to Shubman Gill. He tends to play with no fear and has a stroke-making mentality, which will not change even on this momentous occasion. If he is allowed the freedom to score quickly and hit boundaries, Gill will be a headache for Australia.
One selection dilemma for India will be Ajinkya Rahane. Judging by the current squad, Rahane is likely to play, which means he will largely be relying on past form against Australia. If he plays, he will help in the slips to the spinners, as he is easily India’s best catcher in that position.
India have an advantage in spin bowling because of Ravindra Jadeja’s ability to bat in the top six, which allows them the luxury of including the efficient R Ashwin. While Nathan Lyon is a good bowler, he will be Australia’s sole spinner. However, this shouldn’t be detrimental in England, as allrounder Cameron Green’s genuine pace is well suited to the conditions.
The injuries to Jasprit Bumrah and Rishabh Pant badly affect India, as they would be outright favourites with these two playing. The somewhat surprising unavailability of allrounder Hardik Pandya also harms India, as he could have provided them with the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
With the match being played under English conditions, this slightly favours the strong Australian pace attack. However, as Bopara showed, you should never underestimate the value of IPL preparation for batters.
Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist