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What India lacked in the WTC final against New Zealand

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It’s hard to argue that New Zealand were the better team in the World Test Championship (WTC) final. They bowled better, batted better and read the conditions better.

India, on the other hand, were almost equally good. They fought well, produced some exciting moments and kept New Zealand under pressure throughout.

India lost the match, but like a good team after playing good cricket. They weren’t flattened by the opposition. They took some punches and returned some.

The loss left behind a feeling that this Indian team was better than what they showed over the six days of the Final. What they have done in the last couple of years is proof of their calibre. But some issues were left unchecked. Now that the Final is done and dusted, let’s focus on the issues that affected India’s chances in the WTC Final.


Selection conundrum


Sometimes, lack of options is a good thing. India won in Australia without their captain and cream of bowling department. In the fourth and final Test, they played whoever was fit and available, and still came out on top. In the WTC Final against New Zealand, Virat had every option available. That perhaps wasn’t an ideal scenario going into such an important match. Too many options create doubts.

Did Ravindra Jadeja deserve a place in the playing XI? Most likely yes, but at what cost? To include him, India ended up playing with two spinners on a grassy pitch under overcast sky. And he bowled a total of 15.2 overs across two innings for one wicket.

Kohli defended the decision, obviously. “You need to have a fast-bowling all-rounder for that. We’ve been successful with this combination in different conditions. We thought this was our best combination, and we had batting depth as well, and if there was more game time, the spinners would have come into the game more as well,” Kohli said at the post-match presentation ceremony.

Firstly, it’s wrong to say India did not have a “fast-bowling all-rounder”. Shardul Thakur must be disappointed after hearing his captain’s justification to keep him out (remember his crucial 67 vs Australia at the Gabba?).

While going with the “best combination” seems just about right, we must not forget that the ‘horses for courses’ theory was given to us by the same set of people. Shouldn’t combination depend on the conditions? Of course, it’s always easier to talk with the benefit of hindsight but from what we saw over the rain-interrupted six days, playing with two spinners was a luxury that no team could afford on this Ageas Bowl pitch.

Lastly, by talking about “more game time” and “spinners coming into play”, is Kohli telling us that he didn’t listen to the forecast?


Unpreparedness


New Zealand players landed in England more than a month prior to the WTC Final and played a two-Test series (and won) against England, besides a couple of intra-squad warm-up matches. The series wasn’t part of FTP or WTC. It was a smart move on the part of New Zealand cricket board to arrange an important series just before the all-important WTC Final.

India reached England on June 3 and, after completing their quarantine time and a couple of intra-squad matches, straight away played the Final from June 18.

Now that the WTC has been decided, is there a need to state which side was better prepared for the summit clash?

But let’s take a look at what Kohli had said about lack of preparation in his pre-departure press conference: “…we don’t have any issues even with four practice sessions heading into the game, because we are absolutely sure of what we can do as a team and we all have played in England.”

Cricket, or any sport for that matter, at the top is rarely about vast differences and mostly about fine margins. India played good cricket throughout this Test, and the whole WTC cycle, but over the course of this Test, New Zealand were marginally better in all the areas. Those two Tests against England helped them gain that edge over India.


Slow Starters


For some reason, India often don’t start a series well. But, over the last few years they have been very good at bouncing back. Senior sports statistician Mohandas

wrote on Twitter, “Since 2015, India have won a Test series after losing the opening Test on four occasions, the most by any Test side.”

To get a sense, have a look at the previous two series — vs Australia away and vs England at home. India lost the first Test in both the series but bounced back brilliantly to win both the series.

That again highlights why it was important for India to have a competitive match against a Test side or a couple of first-class games under their belt before the WTC Final.

“That doesn’t depend on us. We obviously wanted first-class games which I believe have not been given to us. I don’t know what the reasons for that are,” Kohli, who thought four practice sessions were enough to prepare for the WTC Final before departure, said during the post-match press conference.

Hopefully, lessons have been learnt.

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