Even before the first ball of the ICC World Test Championship final was bowled, India was behind the eight ball. The team management looked up to the sky before the toss, saw the dark clouds, and decided to field. It was an instinctive distinction, based on what the eyes spotted at that moment.
Never mind that things are bound to change over five days. The help for the seamers lasted all of the first session, before the sun came out and the pitch started to ease up.
India bowling coach Paras Mhambrey later stated that it was the “conditions in the morning” that prompted the inclusion of a fourth pacer. That meant that off-spinner R. Ashwin, the top-ranked Test bowler in the world and proven performer, carried drinks.
Once Australia saw off the morning movement, it was smooth sailing. Under bright sunshine, runs came in a flurry from Travis Head and Steve Smith. Had Ashwin been around, the four southpaws in the Australia batting unit could have found the going tough. But instead, pacer Umesh Yadav - presumably Ashwin’s replacement in the eleven - barely made a mark.
Australia went on to make an impressive 469 in the first essay - a total that head coach Rahul Dravid felt was well above the par score. It was a result of indisciplined bowling, offering wide freebies to Head on far too many occasions.
India never really recovered from a top-order collapse which left the team at 71 for four. Shubman Gill and Cheteshwar Pujara were castled while shouldering arms - a worrying misjudgement of line. It was only fighting knocks from Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja and Shardul Thakur that kept the game alive. The trio prevented a quick demise, giving hope to the big contingent of India supporters at The Oval.
India’s second essay had no such silver lining. Rohit Sharma’s men had the straightforward task of batting a little more than four sessions, on a pitch that was difficult, but not impossible.
In search of a win, Rohit, Gill and even Pujara took a positive approach - one that this team prides itself on. This bold outlook, however, forced Pujara out of his comfort zone. The gritty batter got out playing the ramp - a shot which is not his cup of tea.
The biggest disappointment came on the fifth day morning, when Virat Kohli was dismissed by the outstanding Scott Boland. The edge was a long time coming, as Kohli repeatedly jabbed hard away from body. The men behind the bat knew a chance would arrive sooner rather than later.
Much like Pujara, Rahane paid the price for straying away from his space. A loose waft at a rising delivery was unbecoming of India’s mainstay in this match. K.S. Bharat, playing his fifth Test, did not inspire confidence at the crease.
And so yet another ICC trophy went abegging. In the post match press conference, a disappointed Rohit admitted that “winning a championship is the most important thing, rather than winning any series”.
The new WTC cycle offers renewed hope, but for this barren run to end, the honest self-assessment and tough calls must happen now.
- Live Score IND vs WI 2nd Test, Day 4: India sets West Indies 365-run target; Rain delays restart
- Hopman Cup: Croatia downs Switzerland to clinch title
- Jonas Vingegaard wins second successive Tour de France
- Wrestling trials for Asian Games: Upsets galore show past has little influence on the present
- Deodhar Trophy: Tournament favourite South Zone looks to open campaign on a high against North Zone