Australia outplayed India in the 2023 World Test Championship (WTC) final to win its ninth ICC title and first in the longer format played at the Oval, England, that finished on Sunday.
Coming into the last day of the Test, India only had a glimmer of hope as Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane walked out to chase 280 runs with seven wickets in hand. However, the hope was crushed in no time, as India was bundled out before lunch and lost the game by 209 runs.
Let’s take a look at how the game unfolded:
A lucky toss to lose
India captain Rohit won the toss and opted to bowl first, looking at the overcast conditions on the first day of the Test match. “Just the conditions and also the weather being overcast. I don’t think the pitch will change too much,” Sharma said at the toss. Even Australian captain Pat Cummins wanted to bowl first, looking ‘at a bit of grass’ on the pitch. Both teams wanted to extract any movement off the pitch or in the air and take control of things in the first two sessions.
Both teams went with four seamers and one spinner.
However, things didn’t go as expected, and the bowlers couldn’t get a lot of help from the conditions on offer. The pitch map of Indian bowlers in the first innings suggests they tried bowling a fifth stump line, looking for movement off the pitch. The bowlers bowled fuller lengths to get the ball moving in the air, only to get hit for boundaries.
Out-of-control Indian bowlers
The full lengths early on allowed Australian batters, especially David Warner, to drive the hard new ball. It also helped that the Indian bowlers didn’t have much control over the lines—drifting onto the pads, sometimes too wide outside off stump.
Yet Australia was reduced to 76/3.
India did plan for Travis Head and tried bowling him hard lengths. But again, the lines were too wide or on the pads for Australia’s number five to score freely. Head did have some close shaves, but he hung on. At the other end, Steven Smith looked in complete control.
Both batters scored a century. While Head scored 163 off 174 balls with the help of 25 fours and a six, Smith played 258 balls for his 121, which included 19 fours.
On the back of Head and Smith’s 285-run record fourth-wicket stand at the Oval, Australia scored 469 runs in the first innings before getting bowled before Tea on day two.
A typical Aussie bowling attack
Knowing the pitch and conditions weren’t offering much to the bowlers, Australian quicks bowled a stump line and on a good length, not allowing Indian batters to score freely.
Cummins and Scott Boland, playing his first international game in England, used the wobble-seam deliveries to challenge the outside edge. However, the top three Indian batters, Rohit, Shubman Gill, and Cheteshwar Pujara, got out on the balls that nipped back in.
The two fast bowlers bowled with great control of line and length and kept hitting the crack developing close to the fourth and fifth stump lines. The extra bounce extracted by the tall Australian fast bowlers didn’t help the Indian batters either.
Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, and Shardul Thakur survived close calls but ensured India avoided the follow-on.
License to kill
Steve Smith stepped out against Jadeja and hit an aerial boundary. The shot encapsulated Australia’s approach: go for the kill.
Indian bowlers had learned from the first innings mistakes and pulled their lengths back. Although it restricted what the Australian batters wanted to do—score aggressively—they still batted more than one session on day four on a seemingly lifeless Oval pitch, setting India a target of 444 with four and a half sessions still left.
To go for the win or not?
Indian openers scored at nearly run-a-ball to begin the historic run chase.
Interestingly, Boland took the new ball with Cummins, hinting that Australia was looking for early wickets and a bit of control. Boland got Gill out in the seventh over, but Rohit kept going for his shots. With the same attacking intent, the Indian captain attempted to sweep Nathan Lyon but was caught in front.
Soon, Pujara too gloved one to the keeper, attempting a ramp shot over the slip cordon. Kohli and Rahane stitched an unbroken stand of 71 at the end of the day to give some hope for a miracle on the last day.
However, Boland and Cummins were again too good for the Indian batters. Knowing India would go for the shots, the two fast bowlers kept inviting Kohli and Rahane to drive with their wide, full-length deliveries, and it worked as India eventually got bowled out in a session.
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