WTC Final 2023: Will India be able to break the ICC events jinx?
A golden opportunity beckons now in the World Test Championship final beginning at The Oval Wednesday
LONDON: Can India exorcise the ICC events jinx that has been an albatross around Team India’s neck for 10 years now? A golden opportunity beckons now in the World Test Championship final beginning at The Oval Wednesday.
It’s been 10 years since Dhoni turned on Team India’s white ball magic to win the Champions Trophy event in England in 2013. And London has been a home away from home for Team India for much longer.
It was 40 years ago almost to the day that I had journeyed to England when the hype was much less and expectations even lower. It was then that Kapil Devil’s had turned the cricket world upside down with a marvellous victory in the 1983 World Cup that changed the very course of cricketing history.
It is with a far more optimistic feeling that many have come to this final in the hope that it would be second time lucky for Team India after they had qualified for the first ever WTC final, but in an afternoon of careless batting thrown away even the chance of sharing the honours with New Zealand in 2021.
India is the spiritual home of cricket, and in fact the T-20 capital of the world. And the city of London has lent its bit to Indian cricket since 1971 when India beat England, for the first time in England, to complete a double in Test series wins in the Caribbean and in England and The Oval was the venue then, home to Chandra’s spin web.
In all Test matches since the first here in 1880, The Oval has not exactly been Australia’s favourite hunting ground whereas the oddly shaped ground, with long boundaries and a pitch with a reputation for helping the slower bowlers as the match wears on, has allowed Team India to perform to its strengths.
In fact, under Kohli’s leadership, they won at Lord’s and at The Oval, but were held to a 2-2 draw despite Rishabh Pant’s heroics in a sensational century in the first innings in the fourth Test that was, unusually, held a year later, at Edgbaston.
The awesomely talented batter-keeper is out of the game for a while and Rohit Sharma’s red ball warriors are here to take a tilt. Who will take Pant’s place behind the stumps with the gloves on was one of the dilemmas of selecting the playing XI leading up to this final. But it is not about who India will pick so much as what they can do towards getting that albatross off their neck.
Having studied Team India’s performances and considering the playing conditions, it might be fair to conclude that it would not be such a bad thing for them to be batting second, if only to avoid the early freshness of the track and the difficulty of switching from the heady rush of IPL cricket to a Test match. Also, the Dukes ball in the hands of Md Shami & Co. might prove a deadly weapon in the conditions of early June.
The sun shines warmly, in a benign way in day highs of 19 Celsius and a sometimes biting cold wind by blowing through the ground. The Dukes will move ensuring a keen contest between bat and ball and that would be a far cry from some of the designer pitches India put out for Australia in the last home series, the victory in which enabled Team India to qualify to be in this WTC final.
Rahul Dravid spoke of the seeming lack of hype around the WTC final and how that might help his team perform without feeling the oppression of expectations. The hype will, however, be different on the morning of the game with teeming Indian supporters in a city brimming with our countrymen playing key roles here, including in their society now under a PIO Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Can we read signs in all that to believe that the time has come for the cricket jinx to be shredded? The next five or six days (including a reserve day on June 12) will tell. The unpredictable is, of course, London weather which at the moment says fair but some rain possible by the weekend.