World Test Championship

India coach backs bowlers and defends selection after tough first day in WTC Final

World Test Championship

By Tom Bennett at The Oval

Hit For Six!

India’s bowling coach Paras Mhambrey has backed the four pacers included in their ICC World Test Championship Final attack and the selection of one specialist spinner after an opening day dominated by Australia batters Travis Head and Steve Smith.

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Highlights: Travis Head and Steven Smith helped Australia fight back after early wickets to post a daunting 327/3 against India on day one of the ICC World Test Championship 2023 Final.

Overcast conditions and a hint of green on the wicket persuaded India to bowl first after winning the toss, and the strategy seemed sensible given the selection of a fourth fast bowler instead of the world’s top-ranked Test bowler - spinner Ravichandran Ashwin.

With Australia 76/3 at one stage it looked as if India’s selection could be the right one. But an unbroken 251-run stand between Head and Smith helped Australia to 327/3 at the close, leaving India on the back foot in the game.

Mhambrey, however, believes that the movement his bowlers got with the second new ball late in the day offers plenty of hope for Thursday’s day two.

“The second new ball that we took, we saw that the ball was getting a little seam, it was getting cut,” the coach said. “So definitely tomorrow morning will be an important session for us.

“If we pick up a few wickets quickly, then definitely we have an opportunity to come back in the game.”

India’s decision to go in with four quick bowlers instead of both spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Ashwin is consistent with their selection approach across their last five Tests in English conditions.

The move away from using Ashwin in England dates back to the last ICC World Test Championship Final, when the moving ball caused India problems against New Zealand in 2021, and the damp conditions reduced the impact of India’s spin twins.

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And while not picking a bowler of Ashwin’s calibre is always going to be a contentious decision, the Indian camp are sticking by their thinking.

“It's always a very difficult decision to drop a champion bowler like that,” Mhambrey said. “But I thought looking at the conditions in the morning, having the additional seamer would definitely be beneficial.

"And it also has worked in the past. If you look at the earlier games that we’ve played, the last Test match, we went in with four seamers which did really well.

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“In terms of the bowling, I thought we could have been more disciplined, definitely," he added. "I thought we started off very well for the first 12-15 overs when we really bowled in the right areas.

"But maybe after a little bit, I thought we kind of weren't disciplined about our bowling. And that's one of the reasons I thought we conceded more runs than we ideally would have preferred.”

ICC pundits and legends of the game Ricky Ponting and Nasser Hussain were among those who felt that one of the areas India made during the day’s play was in not targeting centurion Head with short-pitched bowling early enough in his innings.

Head struggled when India pulled their lengths back and tucked him up with deliveries into the body, but by the time he was tested by that tactic he was already well into his knock.

“We always felt that that was an area that we could exploit against him,” the coach said. “But yeah, as you said, we could have done it a little earlier, maybe 30-40 runs earlier.

“But you've got to trust the captain. I think you also go with his instincts, and he felt maybe that the situation wasn't right to use that kind of a strategy. But I thought we could have done it a little earlier.”

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