Before departing for a three-and-a-half-month long tour in England, Indian skipper Virat Kohli and head coach, Ravi Shastri had attended a press conference in Mumbai on June 2, 2021. The duo had touched on several important topics and didn’t shy away from addressing important issues concerning India’s assignments.
One of the talking points that has emerged out of that press conference is that would it be fair to stage a single match to decide the winner of a World Test Championship which has been going on for two years? Should a single game in an alien condition decide the fate of the WTC?
Ravi Shastri was first asked this question and the Head Coach of the national team said that he would have liked to have a ‘best of three’ rather than a single game. "A best of three final will perhaps be a better thing going ahead. But one-off is a one-off. The guys have earned their rights. This wasn't built overnight. These guys have been No.1 for a long time," Shastri had said.
Yuvraj Singh echoes Shastri’s views
The Head Coach’s views found credence as World Cup winning Indian cricketer, Yuvraj Singh has echoed similar sentiments. In an interview with Sports Tak, he broadly supported the idea that there should be a best of three Test Final rather than just one match in a World Championship like this.
Yuvraj said that India has done very well lately in foreign conditions and he backs the team to do well but he added that the conditions in England will pose a challenge. “I feel it's a very good thing to take Test cricket to the next level. India is very strong because the team has won in Australia twice in the last three years. The team has the confidence that they can win anywhere. Obviously, the conditions in England are a bit different and Dukes ball will be used there. I am however backing my team and India should do well,” he said.
Yuvraj went on to say that a best of three final would have been ideal as a world championship is being played in the longest format for the first time and New Zealand is already playing in England but India will have only practice sessions before the big match.
"I feel in a situation like this, there should be a best of three Tests, because if you lose the first one then you can come back in the next two. India will have a slight disadvantage because New Zealand are already playing Test cricket in England,” he said. "There are 8-10 practice sessions but there's no substitute for match-practice. It will be an even contest but New Zealand will have an edge," Yuvraj added.
Virat Kohli see things differently
Indian players last toured in England back in 2018. They were beaten 4-1 in that series by the home team. Very rarely do India win the first game of a Test series in alien conditions. For any touring side, it’s a tough ask. To just land in a different country and play a World Test Championship final is another steep hill to climb.
But ‘No excuses, only hard work and persistent focus’- has been the mantra of Virat Kohli ever since he started leading the Indian Cricket Team on the big stage. He echoed similar sentiments when a reporter asked him if New Zealand has an advantage in England over India in the press conference before the departure to England.
The Indian skipper had replied, "Conditions are the same for New Zealand as they are for us. Conditions in Australia should've favoured them too. It's about how you look at things. If you want us to think that NZ will have an advantage before boarding the flight, then it's that otherwise, we feel we are equal."
While it's good to not make an excuse, would it be fair to play a World Test Championship final before getting adequate match practice? India’s opponents, New Zealand are currently engaged in a two-match Test series against England. The Blackcaps wouldn’t have asked for more before they hit the ground running in the WTC final, beginning from June 18, 2021.
India started their World Test Championship campaign with a 2-0 win against West Indies, followed by whitewash series wins against Bangladesh (2-0) and South Africa (3-0). They won three consecutive series and remained at the top of the table for the most part of the tournament.
India got a solid opener in Mayank Agarwal on their tour to Australia in 2018-19. During the course of the WTC, Rohit Sharma has established himself with brilliant performances against South Africa at home at the top position. Shubman Gill has emerged as an opener who could be trusted to build a strong foundation for the team on India’s tour of Australia in 2020-21.
The Indian team has built a solid pace attack comprising of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma. Winning the Border-Gavaskar series in 2020-21 was certainly the highlight of India’s WTC campaign.
In the context of the best of three final debate, a valid question remains. After winning tournaments home and away, losing a single game in alien conditions against a side that has been offered adequate match practice to acclimatise to the same seems to be a battle with the scales being unevenly matched.
Come June 18, we will have the answer to the above question whether there is a disequilibrium in terms of match-preparedness but it is for International Cricket Council (ICC) to genuinely look into the best of three option as a viable idea in future.