Ravi Shastri believes India’s XI for the ICC World Test Championship final will be dictated by conditions in the lead-up to the first ball on June 7 at The Oval.
A side he knows well having also coached the group up until late 2021, Shastri has a history of success at the ground having guided India to victory at the fourth Test against England in the same year.
Looking ahead to India’s encounter with Australia, Shastri broke down India’s selection question decisions ahead of the World Test Championship final, speaking to Sanjana Ganesan on The ICC Review.
The bowling attack
Rather than naming a certain bowling attack for the final, Shastri thinks India’s XI will be determined by two key factors; the fitness of the fast-bowlers and the London weather in the build-up to the match.
India have three spin options in their squad, with experienced off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and No.1 ranked all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja joined in the 15-player squad by left-armer tweaker Axar Patel.
Shastri thinks the option is there for India to select Ashwin as the only specialist spinner and use Jadeja to bat at No.6 should the pitch at The Oval look like it will take some spin.
“If the track is hard and dry, you would want two spinners to play for sure,” Shastri said.
“I think it goes a lot with the weather in England. I believe it's sunny now at the moment, but you know, English weather, how it can change in the month of June.
“So there's a very good chance India will go with two spinners, two fast bowlers and an all-rounder. That will be the combination. And then there'll be five batsmen and the wicket-keeper, so six batsmen.
“So if all conditions stay normal at The Oval, then this would be my combination, but you've got to have the quality to be able to put those guys out in the park.”
Which quick will step up in Bumrah’s absence?
Despite numerous injuries hurting their lead-up, India boast fast-bowling depth, and could yet fit three fast bowlers into the side.
Mohammed Siraj and Mohammad Shami could be joined by Shardul Thakur, also known to bring support on the batting side of things, a strong trio even if Umesh Yadav and left-armer Jaydev Unadkat join Jasprit Bumrah as injury absentees.
Shastri acknowledges the void left by Bumrah hurts India’s chances, though he has faith in the group available for the final, even if it means picking another spinner to accommodate for the lack of quicks.
“India did very well in England last time round because you had Bumrah, you had Shami, you had Shardul Thakur, and you had Mohammed Siraj,” Shastri recalled.
“So you had four fast bowlers. One being an all-rounder there, Shardul.
“That combination is a very good combination in England. Especially from India's point of view. It allows someone like Rohit Sharma to control the game far better. At times in England, you need to slow it down as well. And suddenly it can get overcast.
“You've got horses for courses, you've got all bases covered. But then if the quality is not good in your fast-bowling attack. If you think the guys are older, they are not as quick as they used to be, and the form is a little doubtful, then you play that second spinner because Ashwin is quality, as is Jadeja.”
Batting stocks depleted, though experience is on hand
On the batting side, India’s hand has been forced also through injuries, though Shastri has stressed the need of application for the chosen top six with the bat.
Missing KL Rahul through injury, the side will now likely deploy Shubman Gill to open with Rohit Sharma. Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli will walk out at No.3 and No.4 respectively, while the door has opened for Ajinkya Rahane to make a return to a No.5 spot.
Shastri is encouraged by the 34-year-old’s form, not discounting the rhythm found in a different format during the IPL.
“The way he's timed the ball, the way he's looking at T20 from a different perspective. He's not looking at the number of runs, he's looking at the number of balls he's playing as against that. What is the strike rate with those number of balls he's played, which is good and which augurs well,” Shastri said of Rahane.
“It just goes to show (what happens) when you go through the grind, you go back to domestic cricket.
“He's earned his place in that World Test Championship side. Now you'll have to see closer to the event what the final XI will be.”
Focused on the players available for India’s tilt at the World Test Championship mace, Shastri stressed the need for batting focus, citing the mentality of the 2021 touring party.
“The application is the key in English conditions, as opposed to Australia, India, you need to apply yourself everywhere,” he said.
“That opening partnership between Rahul and Rohit Sharma was fabulous. You know, the discipline, the patience that is needed to counter English conditions is the need of the hour.
“In England, in particular, the leaving game becomes very important.”
A look to the other side
Shastri expects no surprises looking at Australia’s options at selection come the final, especially on the bowling side.
With Josh Hazlewood priming for the one-off Test after recovering from Achilles trouble, and expected to line up with Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, Shastri believes the Australian attack at this point almost picks itself.
“As far as Australia is concerned, it's a no-brainer,” Shastri said.
“They'll go with one spinner (Nathan Lyon), Cameron Green the all-rounder, (and) three fast bowlers.”
Ravi Shastri's predicted India XI
Rohit Sharma (c), Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, KS Bharat (wk), Shardul Thakur, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammad Shami, Mohammed Siraj
12th man: Umesh Yadav