Fourteen out of the 15 India players who feature in the World Test Championship (WTC) final were active in the IPL, which coursed through April and May at high intensity. Only two of the Australians – David Warner and Cameron Green – featured in the IPL, while Michael Neser, Steven Smith, Marcus Harris and Marnus Labuschagne have been playing county cricket.
Most members of the Australia squad for the WTC final haven’t played much competitive cricket since the four-match Test series in India that ended in early March. Neither teams has played any Test cricket since that series. Which brings us to the question: in terms of preparation, who between India and Australia are better prepared for the final which starts at The Oval on Wednesday?
While some in Australia, including Ricky Ponting, are not sure, Australia captain Pat Cummins is clear that a break will prove beneficial for his team, especially because the WTC final will be followed by the five-Test Ashes series, which will be wrapped up in five weeks.
“Yeah, they [breaks] are rare to come by,” Cummins prefaced his answer on the importance of having a break when players’ workloads have been immense across the three formats, including franchise-based tournaments.
“So, yeah, we try and take a break when we can. I’ve always said that we have got six Test matches in the next two months, I’d much prefer to be slightly underdone than overdone. That’s from a bowler’s point of view. I always feel like it doesn’t take too much to kind of get ready. And then I want to make sure I’m fresh physically for the matches.”
Cummins opted out of this year’s IPL – a decision he had taken well before he left the India tour after the first two Tests for family reasons. At an ICC event to celebrate Test cricket on Sunday at The Oval, Cummins said his team was ready for India, having arrived in London “refreshed” on the back of a three-day training camp in Beckenham.
“We have had some really good training at Beckenham the last week,” he said. “Obviously back home, we did a lot of training as well. So everyone’s come in, we’ve trained really hard, everyone’s rejuvenated, refreshed and pretty keen.”
Minutes earlier, at the same event, Ponting had said he wasn’t sure which team was better prepared, though he gave Australia a “slight” edge because of the more Australia-like conditions at The Oval, where the bounce is good, the square boundaries are long, and the forecast is for lots of warm weather.
“As far as preparation is concerned, some of the Australians have done nothing – they haven’t been playing any cricket at all,” Ponting said. “At least all the Indian guys have been playing very competitive cricket in the IPL. So coming in fresh without any cricket, is that better? Or is it coming in maybe slightly jaded, slightly tired on the back of an IPL, but having played a lot of cricket leading in? So there’s lots of factors that could show up through the course of this week.”
Rohit Sharma: ‘Talk to yourself and be mentally ready’
The India players will have to make the switch from the white Kookaburra to the red Dukes, but Rohit Sharma feels this challenge is no longer new to the modern-day player. Instead, the youngsters in the team should focus on the mental aspect, he said.
“If you’re going to play, this is something that you have to come up with mentally. You got to be adaptable, adjust whatever little tweak you need to do in your technique,” he said. “But more than that, I think it’s just talking to yourself and getting mentally ready. Lot of the other guys in the squad haven’t done that because we’ve got a lot of new faces in the squad as well.
“For me, it’s just been really talking to myself, getting mentally ready, because that is something that a lot of us have been doing for many years.”
You have to believe Rohit. He was the leading run-scorer at the 2019 ODI World Cup, played in the same part of the world, with 648 runs in nine innings, which included five centuries and a half-century. On his following trip in 2021 (spilling into 2022), he top-scored for India in the Tests, hitting a match-winning century at The Oval in the fourth Test.
If there is one thing he has learned as a batter in England, it’s that “you are never in”.
“England, in general, is pretty challenging conditions for the batters, but as long as you are prepared to have a good grind, you know, you can have some success as a batter,” he said. “One thing I realised batting [in 2021] was you are never in actually because the weather keeps changing a lot. So you got to keep concentrating for longer periods of time and that is the challenge of this format. You know, you’ll get that message or you can get that intuition when is your time to take the bowler on and that is when you should be ready for it and more importantly, you need to be there.”
And if you maintain that focus, Rohit said it can be easy to make runs at The Oval. “As we know that this is probably one of the best batting wickets as well,” he said. “You get value for your shots, the square boundaries are quite quick. So it’s just about giving yourself the best chance of having success, which is to concentrate for longer periods of time.”