By Niharika Raina
New Delhi, Jun 2 (IANS): The 2023 World Test Championship (WTC) final between India and Australia will also mark the first instance of The Oval in London hosting a Test match in June. In the 104 Tests -- the venue has hosted since 1880, a huge number of matches have been played in August and September, with only eight matches taking place in July.
Former Australia fast-bowler Jason Gillespie reckons the pitch at The Oval will be batting friendly, but could aid bowlers too due to the WTC final being held in June.
"It's going to be really interesting to see what the conditions are going to be like. Traditionally, The Oval is very much a batter friendly surface and with fast outfield, it very much favours batting. But playing there in June, it may offer a little bit more assistance to the bowlers."
"The ground staff will be preparing for a five-day Test match and so, I fully expect it to be a very good batting surface. But I don't know what the weather has been like in London in recent times, so it's hard to have an opinion on exactly what surface will be presented to the teams. But my guess would be that it'll be a very good batting surface and will promote run scoring," Gillespie told IANS in an interview.
With very little turnaround time for Indian cricketers and four Australian players to adjust to cooler conditions in England for the WTC final after starring in a two-month long IPL 2023, the county championship experience gained by the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara, Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith will be of immense importance for both teams.
While adding that playing county matches in the lead-up to WTC final will prove to be beneficial for the three above-mentioned batters, Gillespie doesn't see any problems with rest of the players making adjustments in playing from T20s to Tests.
"There's no doubt that guys like Marnus Labuschagne and Cheteshwar Pujara spent time with their respective counties and have scored big runs, and that can never be understated. It won't hinder them, and will certainly help them, there's no doubt about that. But with guys who played the IPL, we've got to understand that professional cricketers have never had to be more adaptable than they are now."
"They float between different formats regularly and don't tend to have much of an off-season anymore. Players are very adaptable and they can go between formats quite seamlessly. So I don't envisage any dramas there or any issues. But what I will say is that it certainly won't hurt Marnus or Cheteshwar that they've had time playing for their counties."
"That can only be a good thing in English conditions facing the Duke cricket ball and scoring lots of runs. I don't know many players who wouldn't be happy having scored a heap of runs going into a Test match and certainly this World Test Championship final on the back of scoring heavy runs in County cricket, it can only be a good thing."
Besides adjusting to the physical and mental demands of playing Test cricket, the bowlers have to get used to bowling with the Dukes ball in England, which Gillespie thinks comes down to skill and execution of the bowling line-ups.
"Ultimately, the bowlers have to adjust and adapt. With the lacquer on Dukes, the first 10 overs probably doesn't swing as much as it does. After from probably 10 to 30 overs, that's when it swings the most because the lacquer comes off the ball a little bit. So, that might just be where the bowlers have to adjust slightly."
"But I don't envisage any real issues players, as they're so adaptable these days and, and the Indians had been practising to get the feel of the Dukes even when IPL was on. I don't expect them to have any issues and I'm sure they'll be able to adjust and adapt their bowling adequately for this Test match."
Asked about the ideal strategies which can be employed by bowling attacks from both sides at The Oval, Gillespie thinks targeting top of off-stump constantly for the fast-bowlers will be the key.
"That top of the off-stump or fourth stump line from bowlers is encouraging and looking to get the batter to think about playing aggressive shots off the front foot. That's your default Plan A which both teams will certainly be looking to do," the Australian said.
"Then it's just strategies to certain players like bowling a bit wider off the off-stump and dry up the leg-side or to stop scoring on the leg-side, you might attack stumps and stack the leg side field, or might bowl short around the wicket. Certainly, Plan A will be that off-stump fourth stump line on a good length towards the top of off-stump.
The spinners will probably be a little bit more defensive early in the game and look to manage the scoring rate. Then as they start getting more assistance off the surface, they can start tweaking their fields and being more aggressive and look to spin the ball hard and create opportunities. But the plans and strategies will be flexible as the game goes on and the surface wears," he concluded.