Will Indian players’ IPL gains stand the WTC Test?
Rohit Sharma’s team will look to cash in on their IPL form and all-format experience.
When Virat Kohli was not getting runs in Tests, he was not getting runs in IPL too. The same was true for Ajinkya Rahane. The demands of the formats differ but for all-format players with a proven record, a good run of form in one format generally flows into the other formats as well.
That is what India will hope. The reality could be different. Heading into the World Test Championship final against Australia starting at The Oval on June 7, India won't play a warm-up game. It means Rohit Sharma and his men will switch directly from T20 in IPL to a Test. They will need to adjust bat speed, tighten technique (for the batters) and find the Test line and length (for the bowlers). It has often proved a difficult transition.
The conditions at The Oval will play a part too. In the 143 years that cricket has been played at The Oval, the WTC Final will be the first time it will host a Test in June. The wicket will be fresh and the moving ball will come into play. The red Dukes ball offers more movement, and for a longer period. The batters’ judgement of their off-stump will be tested and patience rather than adventure will be rewarded.
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“Preparation has been good far,” bowling coach Paras Mhambrey said in a video tweeted by BCCI on Wednesday. “Just adding a little bit of workload for the bowlers, just kind of preparing them for the Test.”
Batting coach Vikram Rathour also felt that managing the training was vital at this stage: “The players have been coming from IPL, so the key thing for us was to take care of the workload.”
Despite all the caveats, going into a game with runs or wickets behind you is always good. If you are in the right frame of mind, you can make the adjustments quickly. Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ajinkya Rahane and Ishan Kishan will all be on a high after their morale-boosting performances in IPL.
Some of them had their best seasons. Gill topped the run charts aggregating 890 at an average of 59.33 and his Gujarat Titans teammate Shami finished atop the wicket-taker's list with 28. Kohli had his best season since 2016, with 639 runs. Rahane sparkled with impressive cameos. Ishan, a late replacement for the injured KL Rahul, was also dynamic – 454 runs. As captain, Rohit Sharma did well to help Mumbai Indians reach the final knockout game (Qualifer 2).
Kohli believes he is back to his best. He started with a 49-ball 89* against MI and finished with back-to-back hundreds. That Kohli’s hundred in RCB's last league match was overshadowed by Gill’s century is proof of how well the 23-year-old opener has been batting. He meted out the same treatment to MI in Qualifier 2 at Ahmedabad with a swashbuckling 129.
It helped that both batters stuck to their classical approach even in the T20 madness. Kohli himself is proof that formats don’t matter for the very best. In the build-up to IPL too, he got a double hundred in the fourth Test against Australia. He was prolific in the ODIs too.
Same for Gill. He was in top gear in the Tests and ODIs. His last Test innings was a hundred, against Australia at Ahmedabad. In ODIs, he has already struck three hundreds this year.
Rohit didn’t set IPL on fire but played useful cameos on either side of a lean patch when he went five games without getting into double digits. In the limited preparation time they have, Rohit and Ishan, however, will need to completely change their approach from their high-risk IPL game.
In the past, Rahane has shown the ability to conjure up runs in difficult situations in overseas conditions. In the last series India played in England in 2021, even in the middle of his lean patch, he produced a fighting 61 to help turn the second Test at Lord’s in India’s favour.
While Shami took the Purple Cap as IPL’s highest wicket-taker, Siraj was RCB’s leading wicket-taker with 19 scalps from 14 matches. The advantage for India's lead pacers can be seen from the fact that they have bowled Test match lengths in the T20 league. Shami’s ability to present the seam makes him deadly. He and Siraj have reaped the rewards in IPL with attacking bowling.
Given a choice of venue, India wouldn't mind playing at The Oval because the surface there is known to aid spin as well. In that context, the IPL form of Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin augurs well as they will be key as support cast to Shami and Siraj.
On the latest episode of The ICC Review, former India coach Ravi Shastri said: “If you look at these players, a lot of them are at their prime when you look at the Indian Test side. They're at that age where they’re battle-hardened, travelled around the world. They know what Test cricket is all about, one-day cricket is all about, T20 cricket is all about. And the mix is with experienced players and youth. There’s youth filtering in, especially in the white-ball formats. But as a nucleus in Test cricket, there's tons of experience. That’s what makes the difference.”