LONDON (AP) — The first World Test Championship final didn't go as expected. Or maybe it did.
India started as the marginal favorite against New Zealand in 2021 in neutral Southampton, and unraveled under pressure on a low-scoring fast bowlers' pitch from New Zealand's five-prong pace attack on the fifth day.
India has made it back to the final to face Australia on neutral turf at The Oval from Wednesday.
Given it is ranked No. 1 and has beaten Australia in their last four test series, including two in Australia, India starts the second final of the International Cricket Council's World Test Championship the slight favorite again.
But India's record in global tournaments hasn't lived up to expectations. For all of its leverage on world cricket's finances and outsized influence in the Twenty20 franchise game, India hasn't won a global event for 10 years; not since the 2013 Champions Trophy under Mahendra Singh Dhoni's leadership. Since then, another Champions Trophy, two Cricket World Cups, four T20 World Cups and a WTC have come and gone without an India triumph.
Coach Rahul Dravid denies that record has become baggage for India.
“We don't feel any pressure in terms of trying to win an ICC trophy,” Dravid said. “Of course, it would be nice to do it. It would be nice to get them on the right side of the result.”
The main reason they haven't? The batting.
There's no lack of self-belief. But that has also been India's undoing at crunch times in global tournaments. The team is full of personalities wanting to express themselves and take risks. And the charismatic Virat Kohli often hasn't had enough support from other senior batters.
The main questions about the lineup aren't about the batting, though. They concern whether to pick a second spinner, Ravichandran Ashwin or Axar Patel, to back up Indian Premier League final hero Ravindra Jadeja, and which of KS Bharat or Ishan Kishan will keep wicket while Rishabh Pant continues to rehab from a car crash in December. Bharat has the inside running after featuring during the home series win over Australia in February-March.
As for Ashwin or Patel? Ashwin and Jadeja were the players of the series for India against Australia. If selectors go for four seamers, then Shardul Thakur — the only Indian to score two half-centuries in the 2021 final — Umesh Yadav and the inexperienced Jaydev Unadkat are in the mix.
India suffered by playing three seamers in the 2021 final, even after rain washed out the scheduled first day. But there's no rain forecast this week; there hasn't been any rain in London for three weeks. The track is dry and bouncy. Whether it will break up is a mystery. The Oval has never before staged a test in June in 143 years.
The Oval crowd will undoubtedly sound more like Mumbai than Melbourne this week but Australia's confidence is boosted by the test not being in India.
Australia cleared up one doubt by ruling out injury-prone pace bowler Josh Hazlewood to ensure he's fit for the Ashes series starting next week.
Scott Boland, on his first tour of the United Kingdom, is expected to be the third seamer after captain Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc.
The fourth will be allrounder Cameron Green, who went the deepest in the IPL of the four Australians in the squad. Green scored his first test hundred in March at Ahmedabad, and though his preparation for this final has been heavy on Twenty20s, he’s expected to benefit from the high-class intensity of the IPL.
Opener David Warner has only one hundred in test cricket since January 2020 but he's hoping to overcome a poor recent record in England to play a farewell test in his Sydney hometown in January. Australia coach Andrew McDonald backed Warner to come right: “We think he's got some good games left in him.”
If the final is drawn or tied, the title, prize money and winner's mace will be shared. Monday is a reserve day in case of rain.