Oval conditions will give Australia 'slight advantage' in WTC final - Ricky Ponting
The former captain is looking forward to the contest between India's top order and Australia's fast-bowling attack
India vs Australia in a World Test Championship (WTC) final at The Oval will "bring both teams a little closer together" but conditions at the venue will give Australia a "slight" edge. That's the assessment of Ricky Ponting, the former Australia captain who is currently involved in the IPL as head coach of Delhi Capitals.
"I think it will be a bit more similar to an Australian wicket than it will be to an Indian wicket, therefore I'm giving a slight advantage to Australia," Ponting said at an event in New Delhi. "If this game was being played in India, I would've said it's really going to be hard for Australia to win. If this game was played in Australia, I'd say Australia are the heavy favourites. The fact that this final is being played in England, it probably brings both teams a little closer together."
Ponting is excited at the prospect of watching a gun Australian attack square off against a blockbuster Indian top order. The match will be played with the Dukes ball, and not the Kookaburra.
"The one thing India have been able to change through that period from late 1990s until now or even the early 2000s until now is their ability to compete outside of India," Ponting said. "Yes, their batting skills have gotten better but the fact that they've been able to produce some very good fast bowlers over the 10-15-year period that they've been able to have success away.
"Obviously they will miss [Jasprit] Bumrah, he's going to be a huge loss for them, but they still have the likes of [Mohammed] Shami, who will actually bowl well in English conditions. When it comes to the big match-ups, Virat [Kohli] against anyone is going to be a big match-up. I caught up with him when we were there in Bangalore, and I had a good chat with him about his batting and where he's at in his career and he said to be that he's back to his absolute best and I think we saw that last night [Kohli made his sixth IPL century on Thursday night], he's had a very good IPL.
"He'll be the prized wicket all the Australians will be looking forward to. Last few series they've played, [Cheteshwar] Pujara has been really hard to dismiss. He's over there [in England] playing now [for Sussex]. Steve Smith is also there playing along with Marnus Labuschagne, trying to get a bit of a feel for the conditions before this big Test match comes around. So, look, I think it'll be India India's top order against Australia's fast bowling. I think it is a bit of a mouthwatering sort of thought going forward."
Ponting was hopeful the spinners would have as much say on the outcome as the pacers, at least as the Test progresses. In the first WTC final in June 2021, India played both R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, but have usually preferred Jadeja when it has boiled down to picking just one of them. Australia will likely play only Nathan Lyon, although they could also bring in Todd Murphy as another option.
"Normally the wickets that I played on at The Oval have started as really, really good batting wickets and actually have offered a little bit to the spinners as the game's gone on. So that's what I'd like to see in this wicket; a really good contest day four, day five."
How much of a say will the toss have? Not much, as far as Ponting is concerned.
"Oh look, I think it'll be important, but, to be honest, I'm not a huge believer in the toss unless the conditions are really skewed one way, unless you really turn up in New Zealand or South Africa and there's an absolute green wicket," he said. "Actually, you can say that Australia and South Africa in Brisbane this year with a wicket up there had a lot of grass on it and that was probably a little bit unfair. So, you want to win those tosses. But I think if we turn up at The Oval and the wicket looks like a normal Oval pitch that as you say will probably give some assistance to the batterers in the first few days and give some assistance to the spinners as the game goes on, I don't think it really matters.
"You can still win if you lose the toss, you can still win if you win the toss, you get the chance to do what you want first and obviously try and control the game. But as we know, winning the toss doesn't mean winning the game. Whatever you do first in the Test match, you still have to do that really well to give yourself the chance to win. So, I'm expecting it for the spectacle itself. I'm expecting that it'll be a really good wicket and it'll be five days of really good solid, hard Test match."
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo