Australia legend Ricky Ponting has revealed Virat Kohli feels he's ‘back to his absolute best’ and said his wicket would be the most prized by Australian players in the upcoming ICC World Test Championship 2023 Final.
Ponting was speaking at the official curtain raiser for the event in New Delhi on Friday (19 May) morning. The most successful men's Australian captain unveiled the Test Mace – the coveted trophy India and Australia are vying for – and then interacted with local academy kids and the media in an event organised by the ICC.
Ponting is set to head back home following Delhi Capitals' final game of IPL 2023 against Chennai Super Kings on Saturday. Still, he said he “can’t wait” to get to London shortly after that in his capacity as a commentator for the WTC23 Final.
The 48-year-old looked visibly excited about the prospect of watching high-quality Test cricket at The Oval from June 7, in particular the match-ups between some of the best in the business.
One of them being India No.4 Kohli. The 34-year-old has been irresistible since he found form – he scored his sixth IPL century against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Thursday – and Ponting believes that spells trouble for Australia.
“I caught up with Virat about a month ago when we played them in Bangalore,” said Ponting. “And I had a good chat to him about his batting and where he was at and his career. And he said to me then that he actually feels like he's almost back to his absolute best.
“You probably saw that last night, you know, he's had a very good IPL and I'm sure he'll be the prize wicket that all the Australians are looking are looking forward to.”
India will be missing some key players for The Ultimate Test – Rishabh Pant is a long-term absentee, KL Rahul was ruled out of the Final after sustaining an injury in the IPL, and Jasprit Bumrah is continuing his rehabilitation from a back problem.
That in mind, Ponting said the Final would revolve around the contest between India’s top order and Australia’s pace attack. “I think it'll be India's top order against Australia's fast bowling, It’s a bit of a mouth-watering thought going forward.
“Generally, we think about the battles between India's spinners and Australia's batters. But will that be negated by the wicket at The Oval? Normally the wickets that I've played on The Oval have started as really good batting wickets, and actually have offered a little bit to the spinners as the game's going on.
“That's what I'd like to see in this wicket – to have a really good contest on day four, day five, or maybe even day six, seeing how it's going.”
There’s been talk about how a significant portion of India’s WTC squad have been playing the IPL in the lead up to the Test, as opposed to just four from Australia, and how that would affect their preparations for the Test.
But Ponting believes there are advantages with both approaches. “There are two ways you can look at it,” he said. “For someone like Virat (Kohli) – is he better off playing now and scoring runs at a consistent basis, and have confidence going into a game? Rather than being the Australian guys that have been back home, haven't been playing much cricket, will be mentally better prepared, but haven't got the runs and cricket under their belt …
“Is Mohammad Shami going to be in a better (position) skill-wise than what Pat Cummins is? Cummins hasn't played any cricket for a few months now. It's a hard one. A lot of it comes down to the individual.
“The Indian players that are here playing in the IPL won't only be thinking about the IPL. They'll be on workload management stuff to make sure that they're right to bowl in a Test match in a couple of weeks’ time.
“There's two ways to look at it – I'm not sure there's a right or wrong. What the Australian players have done though, you know, with Steve Smith and (Marnus) Labuschange being in England there, getting used to the conditions the best they can – they're giving themselves the best chance. Michael Nesser and Sean Abbott are also over there, bowling, making sure they're ready in case there's an injury to any of the Australian fast bowlers.
“I don't think there's an advantage either way, to be honest. But I'm sure if you ask Virat what he'd rather be doing, he'd say he'd rather be scoring runs now. If you ask the fast bowlers they'd probably say that they'd probably prefer to have a couple of weeks rest. It works both ways.”
The ICC World Test Championship 2023 Final will be played at The Oval, starting June 7.