Ajinkya Rahane admits India’s focus on WTC final


India under Virat Kohli haven’t yet won a world honour. They are seemingly hell-bent on winning the ICC World Test Championship (WTC).

Quotes like ‘taking one game at a time’, ‘focusing on the next match’ and ‘focusing on the England series’ from the Indian players mask the team’s burning desire, eventually laid bare by vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane on Tuesday.

“Winning the World Test Championship final is equal to winning the World Cup. We are all focusing on that,” said Rahane. At bit of balancing act followed: “But having said that, focus is to play this game, fourth Test and then think about it.”

Ishant Sharma had earlier spoken about the importance of winning the WTC. But Rahane spoke on behalf of the Indian team management, attesting the fast bowler’s views. “Ishant was completely right,” Rahane said.

India are currently leading the ongoing four-match series 2-1 and there’s the small matter of at least drawing the final Test in Ahmedabad – a red ball game – to secure qualification for the WTC final, to be played at Lord’s in June. A 2-1 series victory will be enough for India, but on another turner, as Rahane said, the hosts will play to win.

“We always look to win a Test match and this Test match is no different. Definitely, this Test match is really important and we are just focusing on winning the Test match and then get that spot in the Championship final. But for that, we have to follow the process, play some good cricket. We aren’t taking England lightly at all. We know how important this game is and this means a lot to us.”

Right from the start of the ongoing WTC cycle, India have been table-toppers in terms of absolute points. But in November last year, the ICC’s Cricket Committee headed by Anil Kumble decided to make the Covid-forced cancelled matches null and void and determine the WTC league standings only from the matches played. It made the percentage of points (PCT) earned from matches played all-important. It made India’s job difficult. They suddenly slipped down the WTC table, with a Test series in Australia looming.

That frontier conquered, India unexpectedly hit a road bump in the first Test against England in Chennai. A message, as this paper has learnt, went out from the team management to produce rank turners for the next two Tests. Virat Kohli and Co are now sitting pretty on top of the WTC table, only a draw away from facing New Zealand at Lord’s.

Kohli took charge of the Test team in 2015 after MS Dhoni retired from long-form cricket. He focused on building the team for all conditions. From being No. 7 in the ICC Test rankings at the end of 2014 – only above West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe – India climbed up to become the top-ranked team and stayed there for more than three years. The ICC mace was duly received, but silverware remained elusive. That India lost the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy final to Pakistan under Kohli’s captaincy followed by the 2019 World Cup semifinal to New Zealand didn’t help matters in terms of winning a global event. The WTC final would be an opportunity to make amends.

Kohli has always put Test cricket on a pedestal. Little wonder then that the mid-competition rule change irked him. “It is definitely surprising because we were told that points are a matter of contention for the top two teams qualifying in World Test Championships and now suddenly it has become percentage out of nowhere, so it is confusing and difficult to understand why,” he had said ahead of India’s first ODI in Australia.

‘Similar wicket’

Much to the team’s advantage, another rank turner is expected for the final Test. “I think the wicket would be similar, like we had in the third Test (here) and also in the second Test match that we played in Chennai. It would be a spinning track. Yes, the pink ball was coming much quicker off the wicket compared to the red ball, but as I said, the wicket would be a lot similar,” Rahane said.

Rahane is not complicating matters in terms of playing spin on turners. “When you play on spinning tracks, you have to play the line. If the ball is spinning too much, you don’t have to think about it. If you miss the ball, you miss the ball. That’s it. Backing your defence, backing your ability is the key and that’s what we follow.”

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