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Top order failure, wrong selection, timid approach behind India’s consecutive WTC final defeats

Top order failure, wrong selection, timid approach behind India’s consecutive WTC final defeats. Top reasons for India's failure in WTC Final 2023.

WTC Final 2023, AUS vs IND_ India lost WTC Final 2023 to Australia _ Walking Wicket (Images_ ©ImHydro45_Twitter)
No top-order batter scored fifty in both the innings for India (Images: ©ImHydro45/Twitter)

As soon as Mohammed Siraj reverse-swept Nathan Lyon to the backward point fielder, Scott Boland, it sparked jubilation in the Australian camp as everyone got together in a huddle to celebrate their maiden World Test Championship (WTC) trophy, which was the combination of some pure hard work from Lahore to Indore to London, losing just three matches in the cycle.

It was the best possible start of the new legacy under their new leader Pat Cummins. Even though they weren’t up to the mark in the final session of day four, the mixture of some superb bowling and a few ordinary shot selection from the India batters saw the ICC number one ranked side, India losing their second consecutive WTC finals.

With the wait for the next ICC trophy now stretching beyond a decade, as the dust settles on India’s WTC final defeat, let’s take a deep dive into what mistakes India committed during the course of the final.

WTC Final 2023, Day 2, Aus vs Ind_ Virat Kohli got out on 14 off Starc in first innings  _ Walking Wicket (Images_ ©ICC_Twitter)
Kohli looks dejected after getting out cheaply in first innings (Images: ©ICC/Twitter)
Another top order batting failure for India

The moment India lost the toss and opted to bowl first, only to see the opponents positing a mountainous first innings score of 469, the onus was on India’s top-order batting line-up to provide them some handsome partnerships on that Kennington Oval track in London that was still good for batting. But just like it has been the case on many occasions in overseas Test matches, the Indian top order failed to deliver at a critical point of time.

After a decent 30-run opening partnership, with the dismissal of Rohit Sharma, India lost their next four wickets for just 41 runs. Shubman Gill and Cheteshwar Pujara, who was so successful playing the county championship for Sussex, saw their stumps cartwheeling due to their misjudgment of reading the length and bounce of the track. Virat Kohli who stood outside of his crease to attack the swing and seam movement, was undone by a short pitched delivery from Mitchell Starc.

During their second innings, chasing 444 to win the game or to tackle 139 overs to bring the draw result, India began on a positive note but again they fell like a pack of cards. Rohit, after looking solid on 43, in an attempt to play the lap shot was trapped leg before the stumps against Nathan Lyon while Pujara, suddenly coming out of his character tried a cute little ramp shot as Alex Carey grabbed the faint edge of his blade.

When all the eyes were on Virat Kohli on day five to carry India over the line, he again went after a wide delivery to play the drive as the ball taking an edge ended in the hands of a flying Steve Smith at second slip. It seems like that Kohli can’t just resist himself from playing the drive. India need to find a quick solution to get over these failures.

Timid approach in leaving out Ravichandran Ashwin

Ahead of the team’s departure for London, the talk of the town was how much of a bold approach India will display during the WTC final. But even before the toss during the team selection, India showed a conservative approach by deciding to leave out their veteran spinner Ravichandran Ashwin with 474 Test wickets in 92 games and someone who had the mental edge over the Australian batting line-up that was decorated with four left-handers in the top seven.

Because of the cloudy overcast conditions on the first morning, India went with a four-seamer attack, however, after the first hour of the game, there was only bright sunshine that made the track spin-friendly as the game progressed and their opponent spinner Nathan Lyon pointed out India’s biggest mistake.

“There were some good moments for Team India, but I fail to understand the exclusion of Ravichandran Ashwin from the playing XI, who is currently the number one Test bowler in the world,” Sachin Tendulkar explained how he felt that Ashwin should have played despite the prevailing conditions at The Oval. “Like I had mentioned before the match, skillful spinners don’t always rely on turning tracks, they use drift in the air and bounce off the surface to disguise their variations. Not to forget, Australia had five left-handers out of their top eight batters.”

The fact is that Ashwin has also played for Surrey in the past during the county championship, he understands the conditions of the ground little better.

WTC Final 2023, Day 2, Aus vs Ind_ Mohammed Siraj took 4-108 against Australia in 1st innings _ Walking Wicket (Images_ ©BCCI_Twitter)
Mohammed Siraj took 4-108 against Australia in 1st innings (Images: ©BCCI/Twitter)
Under-prepared team and overcooked bowlers looked out of rhythm

The Indian team, most of whose players were involved in the Indian Premier League (IPL), was not connected with any sort of red ball cricket since March 2023 and then suddenly after playing in the playoffs of the T20 league, after a week of preparation along with their long flight coming to the United Kingdom, they were playing the ultimate Test.

For the first few days, most of the players didn’t look adjusted with the condition of the Test match environment. Across the last couple of months, the bowlers were bowling just four over spells in 14 different games, while in this game, they had to bowl a six over spell in the first hour itself and come back later in the game with the same intensity. For example, Siraj bowled 50 overs in the IPL across 14 games whereas in this Test, in about four days, he bowled 48.3 overs; clearly, he looked a bit out of touch in his rhythm.

Even for the batters, the transformation from playing the white ball to suddenly come and face the Dukes ball and that too against the top-class Australian bowling that has so much variety, was a tough ask. Either they needed to tweak the IPL schedule or the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) needed to speak with the ICC to try and push the WTC final to July or August to allow them time to prepare. Definitely, India have to make it to the next WTC final for that to happen.

WTC 2023 Final_ KS Bharat or Ishan Kishan, who will get a chance in the WTC Final_ Walking wicket (Images_ ©BCCI_Twitter)
It was a toss up between Bharat and Kishan for WTC Final (Images: ©BCCI/Twitter)
Did India miss the X-factor Ishan Kishan?

Going into the WTC final, along with the Ashwin debate, there was conversation whether India would go with Ishan Kishan or Srikar Bharat as the wicketkeeper-batter. Undoubtedly, for the last three years, it was Rishabh Pant who has been the X-factor for India in this format of the game and in his absence, the team also lacked a left-hander in the top-order apart from Ravindra Jadeja.

In these circumstances, India could have thought of Ishan Kishan, who has been in decent form in the IPL and could turn the game in a session with his flamboyance. Bharat kept brilliantly in the game against the wobble seam movement of the pacers but Bharat, the batter, was a hesitating option and it hurt India eventually.

India missed their old famous spark and tactic of Test cricket

One of the brightest developments for India in Test cricket under their former captain, Virat Kohli has been the spark and getting on the top of the opponents. In this Test, India lacked that energy on the field. When the match winning 285-run partnership between Travis Head and Steve Smith was on, India let the game slip with the motion.

Looking at the last Australian summer where Anrich Nortje made Head struggled with his short ball, it’s common to think that any opponent would try the same tactic but India didn’t try the plan at the beginning of his innings. By the time the bowlers attempted to target Head’s rib cage, the batter was very well set.

“We always felt that was an area that we could exploit against him but yeah, we could have done it a little earlier,” India’s bowling coach Paras Mhambrey expressed in the press conference. “But you’ve got to trust the captain. I think you also go with his instincts, and he felt may be that the situation wasn’t right to use that kind of strategy.”

Going into day five, there was a slim chance of an India victory. The highest possibility was of their defeat, but to crumble like that in a session was nothing short of disaster.

After a break of one month, India will tour the West Indies where they will play two Tests, three ODIs and five T20Is.


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