India have qualified for their second consecutive World Test Championship final, to be held from June 7 to 11 at The Oval, London. They have two matters to contend with: a very different-looking Australian side to the one which they just beat at home, and a selection headache caused by the absence of two obvious choices, Rishabh Pant and Jasprit Bumrah., both of whom have been ruled out due to injuries.
How will India go about picking their XI for the final? Let us have a look.
Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill pick themselves as openers, especially after Gill’s hundred in the fourth Test against Australia in Ahmedabad. These two opened in the last World Test Championship final that India played as well, and provided decent starts in both innings of that game. Unless there are further injury concerns, the opening spots are sealed for India.
Numbers three and four
Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli pick themselves. There were some question marks midway through the Border-Gavaskar Trophy about how long their poor run of form can be sustained, but both batters made exceptional contributions in the second half of the series and to ensure there are no more questions regarding their places in the XI for the WTC final.
Numbers five to seven
It is from number five that the headaches start for India. They have to find a batter, a wicketkeeper, and an all-rounder. Jadeja seals the last spot.
In Pant’s absence, India played Jadeja at five, Iyer at six, and Bharat at seven against Australia in the recently concluded Test series. There is a high chance that they might continue with the same combination in the WTC final.
The problem with that though is that doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Bharat scored 101 runs in five innings at an average of 20.2 against Australia and had a mixed bag of a series behind the stumps, with the fourth Test particularly not going too well for him. However, it can be argued that Bharat got runs when the top order did, and failed when the top order failed.
And Iyer was made to look like a mug against the short ball by James Anderson in the only Test match he played in England, in 2022.
India do have backup wicketkeepers. Ishan Kishan was in the squad for the Australia series, but he is yet uncapped, and may not be an obvious pick on an overseas tour. There is Upendra Yadav as well: kept wicket for India A when Bharat was called up for the Test squad last year.
What this leads to is a left-field, extremely high-risk choice that India can consider making – hand the gloves to KL Rahul and bat him at five. Rahul has kept wicket only once in first-class cricket – as an emergency replacement when the regular wicketkeepers were ruled out. Despite Rahul’s impressive show in England in 2021, making him keep wicket in a Test match it will be an enormous risk.
Of course, India can also replace Iyer with Rahul, with Jadeja and Bharat retaining their number five and seven slots respectively.
R Ashwin or Shardul Thakur?
India have preferred going with Thakur over Ashwin in conditions that favour swing and seam and they will most probably do the same for this WTC final as well. But if the conditions on offer turn out to be dry, picking Ashwin at number eight may be an option, especially given the psychological edge he enjoys over the Aussies.
While you would expect Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj to be the first two picks, it is in picking the third seamer where India will feel the absence of Bumrah the most. Umesh Yadav is the incumbent, but his 24 overseas Test matches have fetched him 67 wickets at 37.58 apiece. At the same time, Umesh claimed 3-76 and 3-60 the last time India played at The Oval, in 2021.
The other option is Jaydev Unadkat, the left-arm seamer who has been doing wonders with Saurashtra in domestic cricket to fight his way back into the Indian test team after more than a decade.
Possible XI for the WTC final
Rohit Sharma (c), Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, KL Rahul, KS Bharat (wk), Shardul Thakur, Jaydev Unadkat, Mohammad Shami, Mohammad Siraj