India’s batting stalwarts might hold the keys to their hopes in the ICC World Test Championship Final, but Ricky Ponting has also backed one of their young guns to fire.
Cheteshwar Pujara has scored more Test runs and tons against Australia than any other team and can turn to that record to play a critical role in the ICC World Test Championship Final, according to Ponting.
The reliable No.3 batter has already amassed 2033 runs and five centuries in 24 Tests against Australia and will now be crucial to India’s chances when the teams clash in the WTC Final from June 7.
Virat Kohli is seen as the other key to India’s hopes in the decider, especially now that he has returned to form and compiled a confident 186 in the fourth Test against Australia in March.
“The Australian team will be talking about Virat, no doubt about it, and they'll be talking about Pujara. They're the two,” Ponting said on The ICC Review.
“Pujara has been a thorn in their side a lot in the past, and in Australia, and this wicket will potentially be a lot more like an Australian pitch. They know that they'll have to get him early.
“They also know that Virat over the last few weeks is probably just about back to his absolute best, albeit in T20 cricket.
“He told me that the feeling he's getting right now is that he's almost back to his best, and that's an ominous warning for the Australians going into a one-off game.”
While Ponting added skipper Rohit Sharma as a batter that India will need to influence the WTC Final at The Oval, he also backed another opener to have an impact on the result.
Shubman Gill was selected for the last two Tests in the recent four-match battle for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and pressed his claims for a spot in the WTC Final with a fine 128 in Ahmedabad.
The 23-year-old made his Test debut in 2020 on the India tour of Australia and impressed with 259 runs at an average of 51.8 but is yet to secure a consistent place at the top of the order.
With KL Rahul ruled out of the WTC Final due to injury this could be the time for Gill to shine and make his mark in a high stakes clash.
“He looks like a terrific young guy,” Ponting said.
“He's got that bit of attitude about him as well. He's got a bit of swagger. He has some serious class.
“That sort of front foot pull shot that he plays against the fast bowlers will be a shot that he'll probably need against this Australian attack.”
India are set to call on their pacers more at The Oval than in the recent Test series against Australia on home soil when Mohammed Shami sent down 69.1 overs to be the busiest quick.
With ongoing injury concerns for Jasprit Bumrah diminishing India’s pace threat, Ponting believes Shami will have to be at his best if they are to match Australia’s acclaimed attack.
“I think he has to step up or try and take his game to another level if India are going to win this game,” Ponting said.
“When you talk to the Australian batters as well, they understand how good Shami is whether it's new ball or old ball, whether it's in Australia or India.
“They know the skillset he's got and how dangerous he can be. It’s going to have to be him.”