Kolkata: A best-of-three final to decide on the World Test Championship title may be the ideal scenario but for now, the upcoming match is equivalent to playing the World Cup final, feels Indian team’s head coach Ravi Shastri.
The Indian squad will be leaving for England on Wednesday night for a demanding tour of England, which starts with the first-ever WTC final against New Zealand at Ageas Bowl from June 18-22, to be followed by a gruelling five-Test series against England.
Speaking at the customary pre-departure press conference in Mumbai, both skipper Virat Kohli and Shastri stressed on the importance of the one-off battle later this month. ‘‘If you ask me, a three-Test final to decide on the champions would be final if the championship has to continue. However, we have got to finish it before the FTP gets underway. It’s our biggest moment in Tests as over the last two years, the team has come out of several tough situations to reach this stage,’’ Shastri said.
Echoing Shastri’s sentiments, with whom Kohli has traversed the whole of this two-year WTC cycle, the Indian skipper said: ‘‘It’s an accummulation of all the hard work that we have put in over the last five to six years.’’
The last time India faced New Zealand was in an away series in early 2020, which saw the hosts complete a 2-0 whitewash and the emergence of the gentle giant Kyle Jamieson as one of their new strike weapons. Asked during the zoom interaction about the lessons learnt from that series, Kohli’s repartee was: ‘‘We simply have to play better Test cricket. The conditions will be the same in England for everyone and we have to see both teams at the same level.’’
The last two years have certainly seen India emerge stronger as a Test-playing nation with the series win in Australia being the high point - though a series win in England has still remained elusive for this regime. Asked if he sees the five-Test series as a ‘final frontier,’ Kohli went on a different track. ‘‘No, it’s not a final frontier. It’s an ongoing process and we are in a process of transition where the next lot has to take over from us. It’s for us to keep the standards high,’’ he said.
While New Zealand have reached England well in advance and have managed to squeeze in an intra-squad practice match as well, members of the Indian squad will barely have three to four days to acclimatise themselves after completing a 10-day quarantine. Kohli, however, does not see much reason in whinging about the lack of preparation time: ‘‘In the past, we have landed three days before matches on overseas tours and managed to get it going, I feel it’s all in the head. We have all played in England - either for the national side or India A.’’
The first time Kohli played a Test series in England was in 2014 and nearly seven years down the line, what has changed for him? ‘‘I have got older, I have become the captain of the team and my position has evolved in the team,’’ he said. Shastri quipped: ‘‘Let me answer that. For starters, he is slimmer, fitter, he’s the captain of the team and he is about 5000-plus runs richer in Tests.’’
The schedule of the long drawn England tour is somewhat skewed as after the WTC Final concludes on June 22, India will have to idle away nearly six weeks before the first Test begins in Trent Bridge on August 4. Asked about it, Kohli chose to look at the positive side of things as he said: ‘‘The gap will give us time to refresh ourselves after a demanding WTC Final.’’
The players have been given green signal to travel with their families earlier this week following a nod from the UK government.