The Australian team on paper holds a slight advantage on a bouncy Oval track but both Ravi Shastri and Ricky Ponting feel that the Indians are better prepared for the World Test Championship (WTC) final beginning on Wednesday with IPL (Indian Premier League) game-time under their belt.
Shastri, Ponting and Pakistan legend Wasim Akram all feel that the Oval track will remain fresher than it usually is as it has never hosted a Test match in June in the venue’s 140-year history.
Shastri, a former India head coach who guided the team to the inaugural WTC final in 2021, felt that had Jasprit Bumrah been there, India would have started on an even keel if not as favourite.
“I would say if you look at the pace attack, if Bumrah was there, I would say it was equal with an attack of Mohammad Shami, Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj. But that Aussie attack with Starc, Cummins, may be the match fitness will come into play,” Shastri said at the ICC’s ‘Afternoon with Test Legends’ event.
Shastri feels that even if it was two months of T20 cricket, game time does make a difference. Ponting and Akram both concurred with Shastri.
“Match fitness might come into play,” Shastri reckoned.
“You need some cricket behind you and staying on the park for six hours for five days is different from bowling in nets for two hours every day,” he said.
“Shami might be key as he has been playing a lot of cricket,” Shastri added.
In fact, Ponting also seemed in two minds whether being fresh without a lot of games is better than playing some intense T20 cricket.
“Some of the Aussies have done nothing and not played anything. Coming in fresh, is that better? Or coming tired slightly jaded but playing lot of cricket, what is better,” said Ponting, without a definite answer.
Akram’s take on workload issue has been consistent over the years.
“I, as a player, like having cricket (games) behind me. Format doesn’t matter as long as I am playing. It’s better to have tournament like IPL.”
Shastri, who was in the Indian dressing room when they lost the rain-marred final at the Southampton in 2021, said that things have been completely different in this cycle.
“When you don’t win, it hurts as you are not there to fill in numbers. But if I look in hindsight, compared to that World Test Championship cycle, it’s chalk and cheese.
“There was COVID-19, quarantines. It was hard on players, 14 days in isolation and then seven days of training. Here, both teams have had time to prepare and this one will be a good contest,” he said.
For Akram, who has played more than a decade of county cricket in England, mainly for Lancashire, a team he also captained, a June Test match in Oval will have its own set of conditions.
“In Oval, you play a Test match either in last week of August or during first or second week of September when the pitch is bone dry. But this time it’s a fresh pitch and it’s early June. There will be a lot more bounce. The Dukes swings lot more and for longer time and stays a lot harder than Kookaburra. I think Australia will be slightly favourites,” the ‘Sultan of Swing’ said.
For former Australia skipper Ponting, the conditions at the Oval in the month of June, bring promise of a sunny weather. He said it reminds him more of conditions back home rather than English.
“Never been in a Test match held at the Oval in June (since 1880). The pitch should be perfect. It’s a neutral ball (Dukes and not Kookaburra or SG Test) at neutral venue and it (Dukes) does (seam and swing) longer (periods of time). You look at this venue, it is more like an Aussie venue than English. Conditions slightly favour Australia,” he said.