24/05/2024

Scott Boland will have to play a pivotal role for the Aussies to win the World Test Championship (Photo: Izhar Khan)

Another chapter will be added to one of cricket’s greatest modern-day rivalries when Australia takes on India in the World Test Championship final on 7 June.

The top two teams in the ICC Test rankings, whoever wins the championship will take much-needed bragging rights into the 2024/25 Border-Gavaskar series.

The Inner Sanctum previews the final of the second instalment of the World Test Championship.

Last time they met

The last time these two sides shared the same pitch was not too long ago. Australia travelled to the subcontinent to face India in February as the hosts won their fourth straight Border-Gavaskar series.

India stamped its authority early in the series to retain the trophy two matches in. Going into the series as the number one Test team in the ICC rankings, Australia was dismissed for 91 in the second innings (its lowest score in India), en route to a loss of an innings and 132 runs. While in the Delhi Test match the Aussies were 3/95 before losing 7/18, eventually going down by six wickets.

With the series wrapped up, the Aussies started to gain some momentum through Usman Khawaja at the top of the order. Although it was the spin duo of Matthew Kuhnemann and Nathan Lyon who secured a belated victory in the context of the series. Lyon took home man of the match honours after 8/64 in the second innings.

The Ahmedabad test match saw runs aplenty as 1,226 runs were scored over three innings. Khawaja, Cameron Green, Shubman Gill, and Virat Kohli all scored centuries, leading to a draw.

Indian all-rounders Ravi Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja were named joint players of the series with a combined 47 wickets over the four matches.

Big picture

Winning the last four series against Australia, this Indian outfit will go into the final full of confidence. Expected to field an almost identical side to that of the Border-Gavaskar series, the real question will be what reinforcements India chooses to go with, with the option of bringing in a third seam bowler or another middle-order batter.

The likelihood is India will elect for a third seamer, which in that case will likely be Umesh Yadav. Yadav replaced Mohammed Siraj in the final two Test matches against Australia, making him the preferred choice over Shardul Thakur.

Ajinkya Rahane is knocking on the door should they choose to go with a middle-order batter instead. The right-hander hasn’t played a Test match since January 2022, but his wealth of experience could prove handy against the Aussies, especially with the strength of their top four.

As for Australia, it will look to kickstart a strong English summer with a win in the final. In what was an eager wait for the third paceman spot, Scott Boland has been confirmed as the starter after Josh Hazlewood has been ruled out due to injury. A sense of normality seems like it will be cast over the Test Championship leaders as David Warner looks to regain his spot opening the batting.

Although it might be wishful thinking or a thought for the Ashes, but would it be wiser for Travis Head to open the batting and for Warner to bat at five?

It’s no secret that bar the double century in his 100th Test match, the veteran has been underwhelming in recent times against the new ball. Head relished as part of the first-wicket partnership, bringing the aggressive nature the former used to provide.

Regardless of how each team sets up, it will be an enticing encounter.

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Key Players

Travis Head

The middle-order batter has successfully transformed his career in the last six months. Ranked sixth in the ICC Test Player Rankings, Head has been the aggressive batter Australia has needed at the twilight of Warner’s career.

His short stint opening the batting has also shown promising signs. Averaging 76 runs since the start of the West Indies series, the South Australian will look to bring that form with him to England.

His biggest issue though has been scoring runs outside of Australia. Head has an average of 29 when batting overseas compared to 57.4 on home soil might not be a good sign, but the 29-year-old will take pride in three scores over 40 in India, including a 90 in Ahmedabad.

It will be interesting to see where Head bats in the order given the likely return of David Warner. Regardless of where he bats, he needs to take the same aggressive approach we have seen throughout the Australian summer.

Scott Boland

Pat Cummins confirmed that Scott Boland will take the place of the injured Josh Hazlewood. Often seen as the unluckiest to miss, Boland will finally get his opportunity to cement his spot.

Taking 28 wickets across his first seven Test matches, the 34-year-old has been known for repetitively hitting the right line and length, which could make him a dangerous option on The Oval.

There is a big worry for the Victorian approaching this match and the English summer. While most Australian players are playing county cricket, Boland chose not to play hoping to preserve himself for this final and the upcoming Ashes series.

Facing a quality top four in Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli, getting wickets won’t be an easy task. An average of 147 runs per innings between that four during their last series against Australia proves just that.

Although if Boland can get the Duke’s ball swinging early and hit his consistent line and length, then the cult hero can help steer the Aussies home.

Shubman Gill

Finding his way into the Indian team after replacing KL Rahul in the third Test of the Border-Gavaskar series, Gill wasted no time making the spot his own, scoring 128 in the first innings of the fourth Test.

The most inexperienced player in the predicted top four for the Men in Blue, the 23-year-old will need to show maturity beyond his years to catch the Aussies off guard.

Australia’s bowling attack has the capability of limiting India’s experienced batters, but if Gill can add runs to the tally, it will put the pressure on the Australian bowlers early.

Mohammed Shami

England has been a second home for Mohammed Shami, claiming 38 wickets in the country (second behind India).

Shami’s ability to swing the ball has boded well in his favour. Given the top order woes that the Aussies had in the subcontinent, the experienced campaigner has the tools in his arsenal to cause an early collapse or two.

A bowling average of 40.52 in England might be a worry, however Shami has excelled against Australia, taking 40 wickets at a rate of 31.27 per wicket.

The right-arm seamer will also bank dismissing nine of the confirmed 11 players taking to the field at least once throughout his Test career.  

If Mohammed Shami is on his game from the beginning, he will set India up for an emphatic victory.

Key Matchup

David Warner v Indian bowling attack

In what will be David Warner’s final trip to England, the opening batter will want to finish on a high after a disappointing last 12 months.

With only one score above 20 runs in his last eight innings against India, Warner needs to capitalise in this final. Despite a disappointing campaign in the sub-continent this February, the veteran is coming off a summer that featured a double ton.

Although being without Jasprit Bumrah due to a lower back injury, India has been able to get it done without him as proven in the previous Border-Gavaskar series.

The pitch conditions in England will provide plenty of swing for pace bowlers, giving the Indian quicks an opportunity early on to claim Warner’s wicket. If the 36-year-old can get through the new ball, the lethal spin trio of Ravi Jadeja, Ravi Ashwin and Axar Patel will cause nightmares.

India can put significant pressure on Australia’s top order if the New South Welshman is dismissed early. In the recent Border-Gavaskar series, Australia was the victim of some catastrophic collapses after a big wicket fell, posing a threat if Warner falls cheaply.

XI’s

Australia’s confirmed XI:

  1. David Warner
  2. Usman Khawaja
  3. Marnus Labuschagne
  4. Steve Smith
  5. Travis Head
  6. Cameron Green
  7. Alex Carey (Wicketkeeper)
  8. Mitchell Starc
  9. Pat Cummins (Captain)
  10. Nathan Lyon
  11. Scott Boland

India’s predicted XI:

  1. Rohit Sharma (Captain)
  2. Shubman Gill
  3. Cheteshwar Pujara
  4. Virat Kohli
  5. Ajinkya Rahane
  6. Ravi Jadeja
  7. KS Bharat (Wicketkeeper)
  8. Shardul Thakur
  9. Mohammed Shami 
  10. Mohammed Siraj
  11. Umesh Yadav

Squads

Australia:

Pat Cummins (Captain), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Todd Murphy, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner

India:

Rohit Sharma (Captain), Ravichandran Ashwin, KS Bharat, Shubman Gill, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishan Kishan, Virat Kohli, Axar Patel, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, Jaydev Unadkat, Umesh Yadav

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