The endless grind of franchise T20s & international cricket is now reality, meaning India’s players have to stay fit & adjust quickly, in just a few nets sessions, to play a Test in England on the heels of the IPL…
At the start of the year, there was a lengthy meeting at a five-star hotel in Mumbai where some BCCI office-bearers huddled with India captain Rohit Sharma
, who was present virtually, head coach Rahul Dravid and National Cricket Academy chairman VVS Laxman.
Their topic of discussion? ‘Workload management,’ a term bandied about by the board in the media to give an impression that something is being done about it.
The BCCI, it seemed, was a bit concerned with the workload of the players in the light of 2023 being the year of the World Test Championship final and the ICC ODI World Cup in India in October-November.
The after-effects of a long tournament like the IPL were visible and certainly played a part in India’s dismal campaigns in the 2009 T20 World Cup in England, and in the Test series two years later, which the team lost 0-4.
Another IPL later, we still have no solution to this problem. There was no sign of any player’s workload being managed during the IPL.
WTC Final: India and Australia records at The Oval
<p>As Australia prepare for the World Test Championship final against India, the men from Down Under would be eager to put their past struggles at The Oval behind them.</p>
<p>In over 140 years of Test cricket in England, Australia have had one of the worst records at The Oval, which will host the final from June 7 to 11 between the top two Test sides.</p>
<p>Australia played at The Oval in 1880 in what was the first-ever Test in England. </p>
<p>The Aussies have managed mere seven wins from 38 Tests at The Oval, putting their success rate at the venue at 18.42 per cent, their poorest across England. </p>
<p>Australia have won just twice in the past 50 years at The Oval. </p>
<p>Australia have 17 wins from 29 matches at Lord’s at a success rate of 43.59 per cent.</p>
<p>India, on the other hand, haven’t fared too well at the venue either having won two, drawn seven and lost five games. </p>
<p>But the Rohit Sharma-led side will be boosted by the 157-run win over England at The Oval in 2021, which was it’s first Test victory at the venue in 40 years. </p>
<p>Australia finished the 2021-23 WTC cycle on top of the table, their only loss being the 1-2 away defeat to India earlier this year. </p>
<p>The Aussies haven’t beaten the Men in Blue, both home and away, in eight years — suffering four successive series defeats. </p>
In fact, the last batch of the four Indian players supposed to be playing in the WTC final at Oval – Ravindra Jadeja, Ajinkya Rahane (CSK), Shubman Gill (GT) and Mohammed Shami (GT) – were locked in a tense IPL final, which stretched to three days, just a week before the Test.
Someone like Mumbai Indians coach and former South African wicketkeeper Mark Boucher feels that a tournament like the IPL isn’t too much taxing because it involves playing just T20 cricket.
However, these are high-intensity T20 games in a short duration, with hardly any time left for the body to recover before the next match. Almost all the players carry some niggle or the other.
WTC Final: Acid test for Shubman Gill
<p>No one ever doubted Shubman Gill’s class but over the last two months of the IPL, he has suddenly hit a different level. </p>
<p>All the attention is now firmly on Gill and the cricket world is ready to present him as Virat Kohli’s heir apparent. </p>
<p>A decade ago, Kohli took over the mantle from Sachin Tendulkar. </p>
<p>While Kohli’s ODI performances in the early 2010s had a major role in that, his biggest test came in red-ball cricket. </p>
<p>Once Tendulkar retired, in the first Test that he played – against South Africa in Johannesburg – Kohli smashed 119 and 96. </p>
<p>Kohli is still far from being retired but now is the moment of transition. </p>
<p>If Gill has to truly become the claimant of the ‘king of Indian cricket’ title, he has to recreate his T20 magic in Test matches. </p>
<p>Not that Gill hasn’t shown flashes of it already, but come the World Test Championship final at the Oval from June 7, the arc lights will really be on him.</p>
<p>Gill’s job could be slightly more difficult than what it was for Kohli all those years ago, for the simple reason that the Punjab boy is an opener. </p>
<p>The chance of failure while opening the batting in red-ball cricket is higher than at No. 4 or 5, especially when the Test is being played on English soil. </p>
At the start of the tournament, a report emerged that Rohit Sharma would rest for a few games, allowing Suryakumar Yadav to lead Mumbai Indians, but that happened in just one match. With MI’s qualification on the line, Rohit ended up playing almost every game in IPL 2023.
Not to forget, this was the first IPL post-Covid which involved the home and away format since 2019. It meant the players were on a usual ‘Bharat darshan’ trip, clocking thousands of air miles with its attendant hassles.
Add several matches which go deep into the night, and you have a situation where the body clock of the sleep-deprived cricketer goes for a six. A classic example was the reserve day of the IPL final, which saw the post-match ceremony finishing around 3.30 am!
That brings us to the million-dollar question. Will the players be fatigued going into the World Test Championship final against Australia?
“No, fatigue is definitely not a factor for international players. These players’ workloads have been monitored continuously. They should be raring to go and be able to give their best,” former India left-arm spinner and ex-national selector Sunil Joshi told TOI.
Barring Cheteshwar Pujara, who was enjoying another dream season for Sussex, all the other Indian cricketers were involved deeply in this rigmarole. In contrast, the Aussies, with a view to win their first WTC title and the Ashes, were more focused on getting as used to the English conditions as possible.
Being left unsold in the IPL auction in December proved to be a boon in disguise for someone like Steve Smith, who revelled as Pujara’s teammate in Sussex, getting some useful runs and game time in the UK.
The Aussie pace battery is also fit and raring to go. Skipper Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc decided to give the IPL a skip, while Josh Hazlewood played for RCB in just three games, in which he bowled 9 overs.
In a curious turn of events, the pacer flew back to Australia mid-way into the IPL due to an ‘injury,’ but was pronounced fit for WTC and the Ashes in a few days’ time.
The only Aussie players involved in both the IPL and the WTC final are allrounder Cameron Green, who had a stellar season for MI, and veteran opener David Warner, who captained a floundering Delhi Capitals campaign.
The turnaround in Ajinkya Rahane’s career
<p>Ajinkya Rahane’s resurgence for CSK, coupled with his promising domestic form, earned him a berth in the WTC final squad against Australia at the Oval. </p>
<p>Rahane finished with 326 runs from 14 matches at an astounding strike rate of 172.48 and was CSK’s fourth-highest run-getter. </p>
<p>Rahane’s experience of English conditions will be beneficial to the Rohit Sharma-led Indian side. </p>
<p>Former Australia skipper Ricky Ponting was happy to see Ajinkya Rahane make a comeback to Test squad.</p>
<p>Ponting also felt that his positive intent in the IPL, did help Rahane’s cause. </p>
<p>Ponting feels that Test cricket is easier for Rahane compared to his recent exploits in IPL for CSK. </p>
<p>Rahane last featured in Tests for India in January 2022 and has since been out of favour in the red-ball setup. </p>
<p>Before being dropped, Rahane had a horrendous 2021 where he scored just 479 runs in 13 Tests at an average of 20.82. </p>
<p>Rahane’s last Test century came at the MCG in the Border-Gavaskar series of 2020/21 where he captained India’s comeback after the dismal 36 all out. </p>
<p>Rahane must make full use of the opportunity that has come his way to extend his professional career. </p>
As they scamper to prepare for the big final while trying to put in a few meaningful practice sessions in the UK without even a warm-up game under their belt, India’s top cricketers are clearly in danger of being under-cooked for red-ball cricket.
Joshi, though feels that Team India “has had a good preparation”. “The fact that we are practicing at the Arundel Castle Cricket Club – a open ground where there’s a strong breeze – will help our cricketers immensely, as the ball will swing a lot there, and the bowlers will get an idea of bowling with and against the breeze.
“Form is important irrespective of format. If a pacer is hitting the hard lengths and a batsman is able to middle the ball, everything should be fine.”