WTC Final: Will India’s starry middle order pull its weight

WTC Final: Will India's starry middle order pull its weight India wait on famed trio to deliver; Day 1 washed out
The first day’s play in the ‘Ultimate Test’ was a complete washout in Southampton as expected, leaving the Indian cricketers to play darts and table tennis and keep an eye on the Indian women fighting it out in Bristol.
They would have also had more time to contemplate their playing XI, which they have already announced but are, of course, still at liberty to change before the toss.
The reserve day for the WTC Final kicks in now and the prospects of a full Test haven’t dimmed. However, overcast conditions are expected in what is likely to be a stop-start Test, meaning a Dukes ball in the hand of a Kiwi pacer could prove to be a deadly, swinging weapon.
Will India’s decision to go in with five specialist batsmen, followed by Rishabh Pant and a five-man bowling attack comprising two spinning allrounders, prove wise? India now have two options if they change: bring in an extra batsman to cushion an out-of-form middle order, or sacrifice a spinning allrounder for a pacer.
Former captain Sunil Gavaskar said on air, “India can make some changes if they want to.”
Crucially, the famed middle-order trio of Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane seem to have experienced a collective recent dip in form and consistency compared to their usual high standards.
Rahane’s Championship-turning knock at the MCG is the only century from Nos. 3, 4, 5 in the last 10 Tests. Pujara stood like a rock Down Under and Kohli has been occasionally impressive over the past year and a half, but big runs have not flowed from their blades. They also didn’t impress on the 2020 two-Test series in New Zealand, featuring the same set of Kiwi bowlers.
“The XI which has been announced is the XI which takes the pitch, weather and conditions out of the equation. Having said that, the toss is not yet over. If a decision is taken, it will be taken on the day of the toss,” said India’s fielding coach R Sridhar on Friday.
It is imperative that Kohli, India’s main batsman who averaged 59.30 from 5 Tests in England in 2018 with two hundreds, figures out a way to counter Tim Southee, who has dismissed him most times in international cricket, and Trent Boult.
Kohli will know these pacers had his number in New Zealand, where he averaged just 9.50 from 4 innings with a highest of 19: his worst-ever overseas series performance. These are stats which will hurt Kohli’s pride and he will be eager to correct the odds. Since his last Test century, the 136 against Bangladesh in Nov 2019, Kohli averages just 24 from 12 innings (7 Tests).
Pujara has been without a hundred in his last 28 innings stretching to Jan 2019. He averages below 30 (29.21) since then. Rahane’s blade has dried up since Melbourne. He is now 11 innings without three figures and averages 22.60 in that period.
All three were set up perfectly by the Kiwi pacers on the last tour: Rahane with the short ball, Pujara targeted around the stumps by Boult and Kohli either being lured into the drive or pegged back.
“If you start looking at too many things on the outside, you tend to confuse yourself,” Kohli had said about his preparations on match eve. “It’s a contest between bat and ball, keep it simple.” Rahane too posted a training video where he talked about going “back to the basics”.
‘Can’t wait to watch Gill bat’
India’s fielding coach R Sridhar can’t wait to watch opener Shubman Gill, who is coming off a lean patch both against England and in the IPL, bat for the first time on English soil. “Gill is a million-dollar cricketer,” Sridhar said. “He is looking in excellent form and is in good nick. That puts him in good stead for this Test. He is an exciting prospect and I can’t wait to watch him play.”
Sridhar also praised the idea of the reserve day put in place by the ICC. “They have been prudent and wise. We all know what the English weather is like. If play starts on time, we are looking at four hours of play on the reserve day. That’s going to make it a complete match. That’s what viewers want.”


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