India entered the last day of the World Test Championship final in both 2021 and 2023 with the intention of winning. They could only persist for about a session on both occasions as their batting was destroyed by sharp fast bowling spells.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the rain-delayed 2021 championship game was played in front of a sparse audience. India began the reserve day at 64 for 2. With Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara in, as well as Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Rishabh Pant, and R Ashwin left to bat, India would have fancied setting a difficult goal given their 32-run advantage at the start of the day. After lunch, though, they would be bundled out for 170 an hour, giving New Zealand enough time to reach the target of 139.
India needed an additional 280 runs at The Oval on Sunday morning in order to reach their 444-run target, and Kohli and Rahane both got off to strong starts. India’s strategy for the chase was audacious from the outset, with Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill pulling and striking ferociously as if it were an ODI. Pujara also scored at a respectable rate. Even the sudden losses of Rohit and Pujara had not stopped them; Kohli and Rahane had taken the reins and were tucking in for the night with dreams of grandeur.
Both Kohli and Rahane ended up playing at balls they normally would have left alone on day five. When you combine those dismissals with Rohit’s decision to sweep as soon as Nathan Lyon entered the bowling attack and Pujara’s decision to go for an uppercut moments later, it resulted in four of the best batsmen in contemporary Test cricket making questionable decisions.
Were those shots errant? Rohit generally concurred, but he refused to apologize for India’s combative strategy. After the game, Rohit remarked, “We didn’t bat well. Even this morning, there were a few wayward shots by the hitters, and as a result, we couldn’t reach the objective.
“However, our advice to the youngsters has always been to play freely; if something is ripe for the taking, strike it. We shouldn’t play under pressure during any type of cricket match, including Test, T20, or ODI matches. If you take a look at how Gill and I began the second innings, you’ll see that our goal was to play well and put the pressure back on them. We were certainly 60 in ten overs because of this; nevertheless, if you play with that attitude, it’s likely that you will also be out. These “lapses of concentration” comments appear when that occurs. However, that is not the case; we intended to play differently.
Such a flexible outlook contrasts with India’s batting philosophy in the 2021 World T20 final, when Kohli, Rohit’s predecessor, claimed that his batters had not taken enough chances to attack New Zealand’s bowlers. In the Pataudi Trophy in 2021, when India led 2-1 after four Tests before Covid forced the postponement of the final match, and in the two series victories in Australia when India won the Border-Gavaskar Trophy on successive tours, 2018-19 and 2020-21, Rohit stated that he wouldn’t be too critical of his players.
Rohit says, “Everyone prepared really well in the little time we had.”
Rohit acknowledged that the match’s veteran players had little impact. When we were previously here, several of the veteran batters really threw their hands up and helped us win the series, so I don’t want to be too critical about it, Rohit remarked. I’m saying that events like this can occur. Whether we played in Australia or England, we have had some really strong performances over the past two years. However, in one-off games, you might lose a game if your mental state is off, and that is exactly what happened.
“We genuinely wanted to try our hardest. In the short amount of time we had, everyone did an excellent job of preparation. In the short amount of time you have, the only thing you can do is get ready for the game and prepare carefully. However, it certainly cost us the game when your top 5 or 6 batters, who are quite skilled in these circumstances, couldn’t go on to score large runs.
The 285-run partnership between Travis Head and Steven Smith for the fourth wicket in the first innings, which helped Australia gain the upper hand, was cited by Rohit as an example of what India was lacking. “What happened in the opposing camp was that two of their men made significant gains and moved into a fighting position. And that’s what was needed on our end as well: a few hitters raising their hands, scoring those big runs, and closing in on the goal. That didn’t take place.
Even throughout the chase on a wicket that was easier to bat on than the typical fifth-day Test pitch, Rohit was clear that he did not find anything wrong with India’s batting strategy. “I don’t think it’s a lack in concentration when some individuals play in a specific way. Sometimes you want to be in the driver’s seat and challenge the bowlers. These days, test cricket is played differently, and we too want to play that manner.
And the pitch was effective. You were free to take the shots you chose. Naturally, if someone is bowling a particularly strong spell, you should try to respect that, but if not, you should try to do something new to disrupt the bowler’s rhythm.
“Travis Head actually did that. After lunch, we were able to get a wicket [of Marnus Labuschangne on day one] in the second over, first ball, thanks to some strokes he hit and the fact that he really helped them get out of that uncomfortable zone. After that wicket, we genuinely believed we were still very much in the game. Then, with the way Travis Head arrived and played, he completely eliminated us from the game, and that is what we also want to achieve.
“Sometimes you have to let your instinct make those middle judgments when you know the pitch is terrific. It wasn’t a momentary lapse in focus or anything of the sort, in my opinion. Men can go ahead and play certain shots when they feel comfortable doing so, but it only happens sometimes.
India’s lack of international victories: Rohit hopes to ‘do things differently’ at the 2023 World Cup
India has lost four consecutive knockout games in international competitions after winning the 2013 Champions Trophy in England: the 2017 Champions Trophy final to Pakistan, the 2019 ODI World Cup semi-final to New Zealand, and the two WTC finals. They failed in their batting on all four times.
Rohit said he would like his squad to aspire to do things “differently” as India prepares to host the 50-over World Cup later this year. “We want to take a fresh approach. Since we have competed in numerous ICC competitions without success, we intend to play differently this time around.
“Our strategy will be to play a different kind of cricket and try something new when the World Cup takes place in October. We don’t want to focus on the outcome or consider how significant this or that match is. We have held the same perspective for the past 89 years, believing that this game or event is significant but not happening for us. As a result, we must think and act differently. Our message and attention will be on attempting new things.