WTC Final: Getting back up to pace | Crickit
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WTC Final: Getting back up to pace

By, Mumbai
Jun 02, 2023 10:33 PM IST

Australia's bowlers need to shake off their rust while the Indians need to find their Test rhythm

For Australian pace bowlers, the benchmark has been set very high. Coming from the land of Ray Lindwall, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Glenn McGrath, anything short of being world class is simply not good enough. In terms of individual brilliance, their current generation of quicks -- Pat Cummins (217 wickets in 49 Tests), Mitchell Starc (306 wickets in 77 Tests) and Josh Hazlewood (222 wickets in 59 Tests) -- are also an attack to fear. But their place in the Australian fast bowling pantheon is not guaranteed. Holding them back from being counted among their all-time greats is their record against India.

Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Siraj PREMIUM
Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Siraj

The trio has the dubious distinction of being part of the first Australian side to lose a series at home to an Asian team, in 2018-19, when India beat them 2-1. It got worse for them when their team lost again in 2020-21. On their way to the series win, India recorded their first Test victory at the Gabba. It was also the first time Australia has been beaten at what was flagged as their 'fortress' since 1988.

Add the wins in India to the mix and Australia have not lost four series in a row to India.

During the recent series defeat in India, Cummins & Co had a limited role to play on the turning tracks, the focus is back on the pace bowlers for the World Test Championship final to be played at the Kennington Oval from June 7.

At the London venue, spin will also come into the equation during the course of the game, but the onus will largely be on the pace unit to make winning contributions.

There will be movement on offer, both swing and seam believes former Australia batter Mike Hussey. “I think the bowlers enjoy it more than the batsmen," Hussey told the ICC website. “The Dukes ball holds together really well, generally. If there's overhead conditions, like some cloud cover, it can swing around corners. So, I think the fast bowlers will enjoy bowling with the Dukes ball. It has a bigger seam on it.”

In the county games played this season at the ground, pace bowlers have dominated. As per the stats provided by Cricviz, in three matches, the fast bowlers have claimed 90 wickets at an average of 27.5, which is the best in the last five seasons.

INDIA’S PACE UNIT

India will be leaning heavily on Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj to provide them the edge in bowling. Both are in fine form, as was on show in the IPL. It will now be about finding the right line and lengths to bowl at The Oval.

Shami’s figures in England – 38 wickets in 13 matches – don’t make for good reading. However, it is also due to the luck factor. For a seam bowler, if the ball deviates too much it misses the edge. As per the data by a leading data analyst team, Shami beats the bat once every four deliveries in England.

For someone who can make the ball talk even on the dead pitches of the subcontinent, the challenge will be to control that movement.

When in good rhythm, Siraj spells danger on any pitch. He will have to produce the same level of performance as during his debut series against Australia (13 wickets in 3 Tests) in 2020-21. It was his five-wicket haul in Brisbane that kept Australia down in the second innings.

The key question for India though is who will fill in for Jasprit Bumrah. India have a tricky choice to make for the third seamer’s position between Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur. Both haven’t bowled much in the IPL. Neither can fill the big shoes of Bumrah but they had a good game too in the last Test at The Oval.

Thakur produced a superb all-round performance with a counter-attacking half-century and chipped in with three big wickets in the game. Thakur’s record against Australia is also noteworthy. Yadav had a six-wicket match haul. On the good batting surface, his ability to reverse swing with the old ball is a handy weapon.

AUS PACE ATTACK

For Cummins, Starc and Hazlewood, the all-important game presents an opportunity to make amends against India. In contrast to India’s pacemen, Cummins, Starc and Hazlewood have an impressive record in English conditions. In five Tests, Cummins has 29 scalps at an average of 19.6, Hazlewood 36 off eight at an average of 23.58, Starc has 33 wickets (avg 33.27) off nine.

In the helpful conditions, Hazlewood is the dangerman for India. The Australian has more five-wicket hauls in Tests against India (five) than any other nation. Hazlewood also made his Test debut against India—at The Gabba in Brisbane in 2014—and has played more Tests against the Asian side (15) than any other team.

"It is a strange stat that as I think I have just played a lot of cricket against them," Hazlewood told the ICC website. "What is going to be interesting is playing them here in England. It is going to be interesting for both teams how they go about it and how different it is to play them in Australia or in India as typically you only play them there."

While pace was not a factor on the slow wickets in India, in the heartbreaking 2021 Brisbane Test match, Australia's think-tank had missed a trick by not rotating their bowlers. By the time the last Test arrived, Cummins & Co were exhausted, especially on the final day when, needing one big effort, their energy was tailing off. Cummins, for example, sent down the morning's first over and a further 23.

This time they are well rested and fresh due to a lengthy break. Their challenge will be to shake off the rust and get match ready in the short time they have in England before the Test match. It is a different challenge from the one in front of the Indians but one that the Aussies will hope to ace.

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