The Light Roller
It's coming home. Maybe. Who cares, really?
Could the two WTC finalists be any more excited?
Here we go again, then. The hoopla, the hype, the patriotic fervour. The hopes of millions carried on the shoulders of millionaires, heroes dressed in white, cheered off in pursuit of glory and a coveted piece of silverware. The entourage, the WAGs, the swirl of social content. The nagging fear that it will all come unstuck, followed by bitter recriminations, dressing-room splits, trial by media.
That's right, we are, of course, talking about India's bid to bring it home in the World Test Championship final, as the oldest format's newest format rolls in to sweep Euro 2020 off the UK back pages - much to the relief of England's cricketers, who have now got twice as much cover for their failings after they began the meticulously planned long run in to the 2021-22 Ashes with a crushing defeat at home to New Zealand. Already the atmosphere is building around the event, with kids flocking to buy Test flannels and recreate their favourite moments from the WTC league stage on TikTok. That added context was all the game needed, and you can sense the anticipation among those involved too - as Virat Kohli explained a few months ago.
"If you want me to be brutally honest, it might work for teams who are not that motivated to play Test cricket. Teams like us, who are motivated to play Test cricket and want to win Test matches and keep Indian cricket team at the top of the world in Test cricket, we have no issues whatsoever, whether it's a World Test Championship or not. I think for teams like us, it's only a distraction when you start thinking of the World Test Championship."
Okay, so it's not for everyone - even the captain of one of the sides involved (though this was said before India qualified, so it can perhaps be categorised as "mind games"). But at least the ICC managed to come up with a way of pitting the two best teams against each, despite the obvious issues caused by the pandemic, right? Let's ask, Ravi Shastri.
"Please don't shift the goal posts. You have got more points than any other team in the world, 360 at that time, and suddenly there's a percentage system where you go from number one to number three in a week. We've have had to dig deep. We've had to go down every hole that's needed to find water and we found it. We put ourselves in the final of the World Test Championship, the biggest trophy in the world, with 520 points."
Well, look, Shaz, they had to do something. Now can we at least just sit down and enjo…
"Ideally, in the long run, if they want to persist with the Test Championship, a best-of-three final will be ideal. As a culmination of two and a half years of cricket around the globe. Going forward, best of three will be ideal, but we have got to finish it as quickly as possible because the FTP will start all over again." So there you have it: the WTC was a complicated distraction that both bored and infuriated its participants, but would nevertheless benefit from having more games (hahaha, have you seen the calendar?). Baddiel and Skinner are right now heading into the studio with the Bharat Army to lay all that down in a seminally catchy pop tune which will echo on the terraces at IPL matches for years to come. Speaking of the WTC, New Zealand look to be in good form after completing their warm-ups against some local enthusiasts and competition winners. As we've touched on before, those mild-looking Kiwis are actually monsters and they handed out another cheerily ruthless mauling at Edgbaston. After the carnage on day three, England coach Chris Silverwood attempted the traditional hunt for some positives. "You look at how New Zealand have played this game, they have given us a lesson on what it takes to be number one in the world," he said - which sounded a bit like a pygmy shrew looking to pick up tips from a saltwater crocodile on how to become an apex predator. But perhaps the greatest indication that Kane Williamson's men are untouchable was that they made six changes for the second Test but still managed to avoid any criticism for disrespecting a weaker opponent. Cricket is not often short on controversies - already this month we've had the stink around Ollie Robinson's Twitter droppings, plus Shakib Al Hasan taking up karate during a DPL match - but what we have lacked until recently is player YouTube channels to help explain it all. Well out in front is R Ashwin, though the Light Roller's Tamil is a little rusty, so we don't often tune in, and now following in his wake comes Usman Khawaja - maker of one of the great 37s on Test debut and a man not afraid to give Justin Langer some backatcha in the Australia dressing room (at least until he was dropped). As you might imagine, given his Pakistani origins and experiences as the first Muslim to play for Australia, Khawaja speaks eloquently in his six-minute video about Robinson and prejudice in the game. On Shakib "losing his c**p", well, he spends most of the time giggling to himself, which is an understandable response. Either way, Uzzy the Oracle should be worth a follow.
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick