WTC final: Why India can pick Ravindra Jadeja and Ashwin for The Oval showdown vs Australia

Jun 06, 2023 08:01 PM IST

Ashwin and Jadeja have played together in only two Tests in England, though the venue where they face Australia has been a happy hunting ground for spinners.

Now that the glitz and glamour of IPL has begun to settle into the recesses of our minds, the attention of the cricketing world swiftly changes towards a far longer, more drawn out, arm-wrestle like form of the game. Test match cricket is back!

R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja(PTI) PREMIUM
R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja(PTI)

India’s second crack at becoming World Test Champions will take place at The Oval in South London, a ground synonymous with hard, fast and flat pitches. The only twist - this is a Test played in early summer with some mixed weather in the weeks leading up to the game, and potentially tricky conditions for both teams to negotiate.

By far India’s greatest strength over Australia is the quality of their spinners and the added batting depth that playing both Ashwin and Jadeja can bring to the balance of the team. Although this duo is a constant fixture for India in home conditions, in England playing both is a rarity.

The pair has taken the field in England together just twice, in 2014 at Old Trafford and against New Zealand in the 2021 final. However, the Oval has in the past proven to be a happy hunting ground for spinners.

The Oval has the third highest average spin numbers of any of the established Test venues in the UK. It also has the second lowest average for any ground in the country.

In the second innings, the Oval really comes into its own, turning more as you would expect in the latter stages of a game, but also has wickets fall for the lowest average of any ground in the country.

June too has traditionally been the best month for spin bowling in the County Championship over the past decade, with spin averaging 32.32, albeit from a smaller sample size. Although there has been just one wicket from spin at The Oval so far this summer, this can be explained away by a strong Surrey side picking an all-pace attack and wet early season conditions not being conducive to spin.

The weather has been improving over the last few weeks in England, with three weeks of consistent sunshine drying out surfaces all over the county. With the weather set fair over the course of the week – showers are forecast only on Saturday and Sunday, Day 4 and 5 -- picking two spinners could be to India’s advantage if the match goes to the distance, and the pitch starts to dust up.

All in all, if there was a ground in England where India could play two spinners, it’s at The Oval.

Traditionally, The Oval is considered to be among the best batting tracks in the country, and ball tracking data supports that. PitchViz is a metric developed at CricViz to compare the behaviour of pitches using HawkEye ball tracking data. One part of the overall PitchViz rating looks at bounce inconsistency and is a measure of the variance of the bounce angle the ball comes off the pitch at. The higher the variance in angles, the higher the bounce inconsistency which naturally translates to more variable bounce in the pitch and harder batting conditions.

PitchViz – Pace bowling since 2013

Ground/Bounce inconsistency rating

Headingley – 5.7; Lord’s -- 5.5; Old Trafford – 5.2; Trent Bridge – 5.1; The Rose Bowl (Southampton) -- 5.1; Edgbaston – 4.6; The Oval – 4.0

The Oval has the lowest ranking of any of the main Test venues in the UK. It is flat and it stays flat throughout the contest. Batters on both sides will be licking their lips.

The two mainstays of India’s batting have had contrasting fortunes in their previous matches at the Oval, and both come into the tournament in varying degrees of form. Captain Rohit Sharma has enjoyed success in South London before, averaging 69.00 from his two innings at The Oval, but comes into the match off the back of a poor IPL where he averaged 20.75 with the bat – his second lowest average for an IPL season.

Virat Kohli, on the other hand, comes into the final on the crest of a wave after averaging 53.25 in the IPL and scoring his first Test hundred in three years in the build-up. His record at the Oval is, by his standards, underwhelming. Averaging 28.16 from six innings is disappointing for Kohli who, along with Sharma, will be hoping that groundsman ‘Big’ Lee Fortis and his team will be preparing a fast, flat and true pitch.

India’s pace attack, in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah, will be led by Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav, two bowlers who have again had contrasting fortunes in South London. Shami has taken just two wickets at an average of 81 at the Oval, but comes into the season off the back of a fantastic IPL where his Powerplay bowling again shone through, taking 17 wickets at 19.41 in the first phase. Umesh had a very poor IPL, with one wicket in eight matches, but has fond memories of the Oval, with six wickets at 22.66.

A Test at The Oval provides an intriguing prospect, with the likelihood of an even contest between bat and ball. A flat pitch with a fast outfield and the threat of spin in the latter stages of the game should make for a mouth-watering encounter in front of a packed crowd.

India’s main point of difference is their spin bowlers who could take the game away from the Aussies on the final day. How Dravid and Rohit will construct their team remains somewhat of a mystery, and that is what makes the prospect of the two best Test teams on a neutral venue synonymous for good pitches so exciting.


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