World Test Championship: India and Australia Fight for the Mace in the Pack

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Forget that eternal Ashes trailer for a while. How about watching the second episode of cricket’s long-form World Cup final? Five-day rules, ok? India and Australia are going to the Oval for the World Test Championship and it’s going to be a hell of a fight. Don’t worry about how we got here. Enjoy the quality.

Australia has A Chance at Defeating India on Neutral Ground

A few months ago, Steve Smith said that if Australia could beat India on their home patch, it would be the pinnacle: “If we were able to top that mountain, that would be huge. I think if you can win in India, that’d be bigger than an Ashes series.” Well, the Baggy Greens lost 2-1 but they now have another chance to make amends. Win this and Australia will arrive at Edgbaston on June 16 as kings of the world. That would be a huge statement of intent. They have lost the last four series against the number one ranked side and this would be a good time to stop the rot.

India’s Second Shot at Lifting the WTC

India had a chance to secure the very first World Test Championship trophy two years ago at a soggy Southampton during a Covid-secure bubble period that required the sixth reserve day. They fell short in a low-scoring game and this time they arrive in the UK without the charismatic Rishabh Pant and prime bowler Jasprit Bumrah. It is ten years since the Indians won an ICC accredited trophy when they beat England in a rain-affected Champions Trophy.

The leadership baton has also been passed on from the fiery in-your-face mannerisms of Virat Kohli to Rohit Sharma, a much calmer presence. Nasser Hussain described Sharma as “a gentleman”, not a description that would match his predecessor. The new skipper has talked of the challenging conditions of England, although this time conditions look set fair at one of England’s high-scoring Test grounds: “You are never in (set) and the weather keeps changing. You need to keep concentrating for longer periods of time and you will get that intuition when it’s time to take on the bowlers.”

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Sharma Striving for Consistency With Bat

Sharma is still waiting to be captain consistency with the bat in his new role, his only major score the 120 at Nagpur in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy earlier this year.

During that series win, Kohli finally broke his three-year century drought and showed signs that he might be gearing up nicely as a loud backseat driver. As for the bowling unit, Ravi Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja took 47 wickets between them on the subcontinent against the same opposition but the Oval will not rag like Nagpur. Mohammad Shami and Mohammed Siraj offer a dangerous partnership with the new ball, the latter particularly skilled at prising out top batsmen on flat wickets.

Australia Fresh and Ready to Conquer English Conditions

Pat Cummins is another newbie in terms of captaincy and considerably younger than his counterpart. It’s one thing smashing the Poms in the usual style at home but the English challenge has been one step too far for the Aussies in the last two decades. The loss of Josh Hazlewood is a blow, but Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith have been racking up the runs in county cricket. Michael Neser has impressed alongside Labuschagne at Glamorgan but it is 34-year-old Scott Boland, the most unlikely hero of the Ashes, that will seal the last seam bowling spot.

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A World Cricket Final For Purists To Cherish

As the two sides converge on South London for a midweek showdown, Test cricket should cherish the next two months. In August, there will be no international matches at all in England until the 30th. The Hundred will rule where serious cricket used to stalk summer holidays. Red ball mode has to show it has a beating heart. The soul of the game remains steeped in the highs and lows of sessions rather than entirely drawn out in two-hour cameos with a backdrop of music, gaudy graphics and crisp-sponsored kits. It’s time to go long haul. Game on.

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