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IPL ENDS WITH A THRILLER, TEAM INDIA GETS SET FOR WTC CHALLENGE!

The Indian Premier League 2023 ended with crowd favorite MS Dhoni lifting the trophy for the 5th time for Chennai Super Kings. While fans got a pulsating final, one empathized with Mohit Sharma of Gujarat Titans whose glory, despite excellent bowling, was stolen away by Ravindra Jadeja on the last two balls of the tournament. As both teams had been most consistent, it was befitting that the final went down to the wire.

However, rigors of international cricket don’t allow players to rest long nowadays and the Indian Test team is ready for yet another title clash, the World Test Championship Final in England. Although India lost the previous Test Championship Final against New Zealand; it has done well in the past two years to become the top ranked Test team to face a resurgent Australian team at Oval on June 7.

India may have beaten Australia in the recent series 2-1 but seaming conditions of England might suit the Aussies better. Despite India’s better Test record against them in recent past, experts feel the one-off encounter would boil down to form and preparation in English conditions. Precisely for this reason, most Indian players left for England immediately after their IPL group fixtures and the remaining players too have joined the squad well ahead of schedule.

Coming from IPL, Indians need to quickly adapt to the longer format and it’s important for batsmen to shut off slam bang style and start getting behind the ball. Indian openers, Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill, have the onus of giving a solid start and fans hope Gill’s IPL form rubs on to Rohit Sharma too since he has slumped from his lofty standards of run making. Gill had a century in his last outing against Australia but Rohit was unable to shine and hence, the duo would like to erase their failure of the last Test Championship final.

If the openers lay a strong foundation, then India can control the game with its formidable middle-order. Thankfully, Cheteshwar Pujara is smashing runs aplenty for Sussex in English county and, with Virat Kohli too in great touch in IPL, India can look forward to put a daunting total. Kohli stated he would stick to his technique in the forthcoming Test and if Ajinkya Rahane, recalled on account of his belligerent IPL knocks, too sticks to basics, runs would come aplenty for India. The wicketkeeper slot is a toss between Ishan Kishan and KS Bharat. Though Bharat is a better keeper, Ishan has an edge in batting department and the team management might opt for Ishan to bolster Indian batting in English conditions.

On the bowling front, Mohammed Shami, the purple cap winner for most wickets in IPL 2023, will spearhead India’s pace attack in WTC Final. With 28 wickets at an economy rate of 8.03, Shami generated great speed and swing, proving why he is rated as one of the finest Indian seam bowlers of all times. Given his experience, the Gujarat Titans’ seamer will be critical to restrict the mighty Aussies. Mohammed Siraj too had a stellar IPL 2023 and initially seemed a strong contender for the purple cap. Rated No. 1 ODI bowler in ICC rankings, Siraj seems in good rhythm and his consistency will be vital for India’s bowling attack.

All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja’s love affair with runs and wickets continued at IPL 2023. Enjoying a terrific season, he picked up 20 wickets, his highest ever in an IPL season. His contribution with the bat was a mixed one but the “Jaddu” impact is essential to bolster India’s fortunes. Jadeja’s spinning partner R Ashwin picked up 15 wickets in IPL at one of the lowest economy rates of 7.39 and was the only off-spinner in the top-ten wicket-takers list. Ashwin also played a few crucial knocks for Rajasthan Royals and his form would be a nightmare for Aussies!

If either Jadeja or Ashwin is unavailable, Axar Patel could easily fill in as he too had a terrific IPL season with bat and ball. However, a tough choice would be for the third seamer’s role as none of the three amongst experienced Umesh Yadav, left arm Unadkat or the plucky all-rounder Shardul had a great IPL season.

All said and done, IPL may have provided thrills and spills but now is the time for Indian players to put their heads down and display their skill and tenacity in the oldest and toughest format. If they are dexterous in their execution, there is every chance for India to become worthy Champions of the Test arena.

THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY THE AUTHOR ARE PERSONAL

SIDDHAARTH MAHAN The writer is a specialist on Sports and Cinema who works as an actor in the Hindi film industry

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