In this relentless amphitheatre of cricket and more cricket, the wagon wheels from one cycle to another. No soon do we finish the rollercoaster of the WTC final than we start the next iteration to determine who plays the second edition of the final. And Virat Kohli’s all-star Indian caravan will take its first halt in England to compete in five games of Test cricket.
For captain Kohli, the first assignment en route to WTC final 2023 will be his third tour of England and fourth different series. The same is the case for most of his senior men – Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Mohammed Shami, Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. For Ishant Sharma, the 2021 series will be his fourth tour to England, having played in the rather forgettable 2011 encounters.
Then there is Shubman Gill and Rohit Sharma, the duo will be playing their first series in this part of the world as openers. Their backup, Mayank Agarwal, has also not toured the United Kingdom before the WTC final. Meanwhile, for Jasprit Bumrah and Rishabh Pant, this will be their second assignment on these shores following the series of 2018, where both men enhanced their respective reputations.
Kohli was another Indian player to have come out of that 2018 series with his head higher than when he went into it. However, India, did not manage to live up to their own billing as an all-condition behemoth. Thus, 2021 provides yet another, and perhaps the final chance, for this bunch to chronicle yet another chapter in the history books to their name.
However, for success to assemble quantifiably enough for a series victory, India will have to correct some of their historic wrongs. Sometimes, their confidence – which may well be perceived as arrogance – has hindered their progress beyond the scattered victory. And the WTC final epitomized the lessons India must learn in order to emulate Rahul Dravid’s team from 2007 and win a Test series in the land that invented the game.
Here are 5 things captain Kohli and India must learn from the WTC final.
WTC Final and team composition
India got their team composition incorrect in the WTC final – and it was not the first time that has happened under the current leadership group. It was a bold move to announce their 11 one day ahead of the scheduled start of the Test match, but it was perhaps incorrect not to review at conditions took a turn for the gloom, quite literally.
As the usually trustworthy weather department predicted rain in Southampton, which came to fruition suspending the first day of play and pushing the toss back to day 2, it seemed a little strange that India would stick to the two spinners.
The conditions remained overcast throughout the WTC final, barring the final day and New Zealand’s all-pace attack showed India may have been well served to include another pacer instead of two spinners or included an extra batsman in the mix.
Picking both, Jadeja and Ashwin, was a heart-warming vote of confidence to the two men who have been central and instrumental to India’s surge to the WTC final, but on retrospect, perhaps a Shardul Thakur – who provides something with the bat – or Washington Sundar – who provides enough as a support spinner – in these conditions would have been a better bet.
In the first innings of New Zealand’s, the two Indian spinners combined to bowl 22.2 overs which is lesser than those bowled by any of the seamers individually.
WTC Final and a swing bowler
India’s three pace bowlers are perhaps the best trio in the world. Bumrah, Shami and Ishant have been successful as a bowling unit in every part of the world. However, in England especially, India’s big miss has been a natural swing bowler who can make the most of the conditions.
New Zealand’s Kyle Jamieson is the perfect example of a swing bowler extracting every last inch from the conditions to put his team in the hotseat. None of India’s successful trio, however, are swing bowlers. Instead, all of them are seamers who extract more from the surface than from the conditions.
India’s best swing bowler, unfortunately, has not played Test cricket for a while given his fitness issues. Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s presence would have ensured India have a swing bowler and someone who is handy with the bat. A similar argument can be made for Hardik Pandya, who adds more with the bat than the ball but has a fifer in England.
Kohli dearly missed someone of their ilk in the WTC final and could not have played Mohammed Siraj as the fourth fast bowler as that would have significantly weakened an Indian tail that is perhaps the weakest in the world anyway.
WTC Final and fishing outside off
Kohli, Rahane, Rohit, Pant, Ashwin, Jadeja, Gill and even Pujara were caught behind in the WTC final, playing at balls they could have let go. The unluckiest in this list was the Indian vice captain, who was caught down the leg side by BJ Watling after the ball took the faintest tickle.
Kohli and Rohit, meanwhile, were guilty of dangling their bats outside the off stump like a bait for fishes and, inevitably, the ball kissed the outside edge to see them take the long walk back. It was particularly surprising to see Kohli get out the way he did, as though time had transported back to 2014 when he would compulsively push outside off stump to a grand slump in form.
Rohit, yet another compulsive driver, showed admirable patience before finally falling to a habit induced by the flat pitches of limited overs cricket. The key to playing long knocks in the English conditions is to stay away from temptation because, no matter how long one has spent in the middle, they are one mistake away from watching the rest of the innings from the pavilion.
Ashwin and Pant perished in the pursuit of flourishing drives. While Pant did not necessarily need to play the shot in the situation, Ashwin was trying to score with a view of the lack of batting depth to follow.
WTC Final and the Rishabh Pant factor
Pant’s already alluded to dismissal perhaps highlights the downside to his approach to the game. He is a character who is box-office every moment. There is nothing dull about his presence on a cricket field. That has also been the criticism surrounding his game – careless and one who puts little significance to the situation.
That exactly may also be his greatest ally. Pant is someone whose belief in his abilities trumps the need to submit to a game situation. The wicketkeeper has a unique ability to very quickly take games of cricket away from the opposition. This is a batsman who has the audacity and ability to play reverse shots to pacers in Test cricket. In India, he reverse scooped James Anderson who had the new ball. In the WTC final, he reverse pulled Neil Wagner who was bowling at his body from around the wicket.
This ability of Pant has now intertwined with a solid ability to defend. In the second innings at Gabba, when Pant led India to a famous victory, he exhibited a masterclass in confluence of patience and aggression. He saw out the threat of the incomparable Pat Cummins before proceeding to swat and scoop the likes of Nathan Lyon.
Thus, India must allow Pant to have his share of failures in order for him to not second guess himself, because given his ability, and newfound restraint, he can change a game in the space of one session.
WTC Final and a fuller length
A graphic displayed on the broadcast midway through day 3 of the WTC final showed Shami to have induced 272 false shots in the 2018 tour to England. The “unlucky Shami” narrative was being discussed in commentary at that moment and like Michael Holding analyzed three years ago, the experts opined that his luck would perhaps turn if he pitched the ball slightly fuller.
And almost like magic, the adjustment reaped him rewards on day 5 as he claimed 4 wickets to pull the game back for India. He could have picked 5 wickets when he had Kane Williamson trapped, only to be denied by the dreaded Umpire’s Call.
Another graphic during that innings showed the average lengths that have claimed wickets in England and that displayed how Shami was pitching it slightly shorter – which results in more false shots being induced without taking the edge. The shorter length allows the ball more time to move away from the edge and indeed to the batsman to make an adjustment to his shot.
Nasser Hussain provided an insight as to why it was difficult for the Indian bowlers to make the adjustment given the plenitude of limited overs cricket played by them where that particular wicket taking length in Test cricket is hittable length. There is also the fact that the Indian players play a major bulk of their cricket on pitches in the subcontinent where they have to pitch the ball slightly shorter to keep the game in check for the spinners to attack.
However, if Virat’s India is to succeed in England, they would have to change habits – length and otherwise.