Wednesday, July 24, 2024

ICC: Shastri, Ponting, Akram pick WTC Final favourites

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Photo Credit: ICC

The skippers of Australia and India joined an esteemed panel of experts on An Afternoon with Test Cricket Legends ahead of the ICC World Test Championship Final

The WTC Final is all set to be played at The Oval from June 7-11. Australia, led by Pat Cummins, will face-off against India, captained by Rohit Sharma, for the coveted Test Mace.

A pre-game live event, An Afternoon with Test Cricket Legends, saw the two captains join eminent cricketing personalities including Ravi Shastri, Ricky Ponting, Wasim Akram, Ian Bell and Ross Taylor, to commemorate the upcoming World Test Championship final. 

Hosted by Harsha Bhogle, the event began with a panel of Shastri, Ponting and Akram. 

Speaking about the importance of the WTC final in the contemporary game, Ponting discussed how the event was comparable to a Cricket World Cup final.

“It’s like a World Cup final, for a Test match. In a World Cup, you play 10 or 12 games to be good enough to earn the right to win a mace like that. These two teams have over the last two years have earned the right to be out here, in a couple of days time, in a one-off game, to be able to hold that thing (mace) at the end,” Ponting said.

“I think that players from both teams need to go out there and put out the best spectacle they possibly can. Play real aggressive Test match cricket, make sure we get a result and make sure the fans get what they deserve to see.”

Akram emphasised on the fact that Australia and India were the two best sides in the world at the moment and deserved to be in the final after a rigorous two-year cycle. 

“They have proved it consistently over the last couple of years, and that’s why they are here for this mace. All the other teams are trying to follow their mindset: That we are going to go for a win. The way Pat Cummins bowled against Pakistan in the last Test match in the last session, (it showed) that they were all gunning for this final,” Akram added.

“They are the well-deserved teams and meant to be here in the final.”

Shastri, who had coached India during the last WTC final, recalled that his side gave the previous WTC final the utmost respect.

“You feel that game (final) is the pinnacle. It’s for what you’ve done over the last two years, you’ve reached where you have to be one of the top two teams. And you go head-to-head. It’s something every cricketer will hope for in his career. To be able to play a final and win it.”

The panel discussed the implications that the Dukes ball, which neither India nor Australia use regularly, could have on the Test as well as the challenge posed by the conditions.

“It’s different from what Indians use, it’s different from what we use,” Ponting said.

“It’s a neutral ball in a neutral venue and we know how this ball does react, you know, this ball does more for longer during the course of the day’s play.”

While he believed that the conditions might be closer to Australia’s liking, Ponting added that it was only a slight advantage.

“If you look at this venue you would think it’s a bit more like an Australian venue than it is an Indian venue. But when I thought back about that I thought well, hang on, last time India were actually in Australia they played our conditions really well, didn’t they?”

“You would think conditions-based only, this slightly favours Australia, but these are two teams that thoroughly deserve to be there. Whoever plays the best in those half an hour spells or stints through the course of every day’s play will end up walking well at the end of the week.”

When asked about the favourites for the final, Ponting named Australia as the side which were ahead, but only marginally. He added that the two sides had contrasting preparations leading upto the event. 

“(Australia) are slight favourites. I mean, there wasn’t much between them through a two-year cycle, right? So that says that these two teams, through two years, have beaten more opposition than they’ve lost to, and they deserve to finish first and second. 

“The interesting thing as far as preparation is concerned is that some of the Australians have done nothing. They haven’t been playing any cricket at all. 

“At least, all the Indian guys have been playing very competitive cricket in the IPL. So coming in fresh without any cricket, is that better or is it coming in maybe slightly jaded and slightly tired on the back of an IPL but having played a lot of cricket leading in? So there’s lots of factors that could show up through the course of this week.”

Akram backed Australia as the side which were slightly ahead, but also believed that the toss and weather will be important factors in the game. 

“I agree with Ricky. Australia are slight favourites. It depends on the weather as well. And I think weather has been excellent, will be excellent from the seventh onwards. And toss is also crucial. And the pitch also matters. But Australia are slight favourites.”

In his take on the final, Shastri believed that Australia were ahead on paper but added that match fitness might turn out to be a decisive factor.

“I think that match fitness might come into play. It’s like Waz mentioned, Ricky mentioned, you need some cricket behind you. It’s not just the number of overs you bowl or how long you were, but just staying on the park for six hours,” Shastri said. 

“It’s totally different from just bowling in the nets for two hours, two hours, four or five days, six days. So it depends how they’ve practised, how they’ve prepared.

“Australia. On paper, if you look man to man, they have the slight edge, but that match fitness might be the key. Where Shami might just come in and do the damage in the first half an hour because he’s been playing so much, as opposed to someone settling in to a line length and the right areas to bowl.”

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