An Oval Test match in the month of June does bring in the fear of unknown but former England left-arm spinner Monty Panesar would still want Indian team management to field both Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in the upcoming World Test Championship final against Australia. The WTC final will be played at the Oval from June 7-11.
In 140 years of Test match history, this is the first time that the iconic South London ground is hosting a Test match in the month of June when the pitch is green and fresh.
A Test match at the Oval is always the last game of a series for the visiting side, either during end of August or early September when pitches are dry and aid slow bowlers.
”It is one pitch in England you tend to play two spinners. If the ball turns, there is bounce as well for the spinners. In my view the wicket will be flat. In these conditions, it will suit India if they play two spinners. We have already seen Australia struggling against spinners, especially from India,” Panesar, who featured in 50 Tests for England, told PTI.
Playing two spinners did not work out for India in the WTC final at Southampton two years ago but Panesar feels the Rohit Sharma led side will be better served with that combination at The Oval.
”The weather has been hot and we are seeing the ball turning even in some T20 Blast games in London. I also don’t see them keeping grass because they would want the match to last at least four days,” Panesar added. Talking about the pace department, Panesar picked Umesh Yadav as the third pacer ahead of Shardul Thakur. Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj are automatic selections in the playing eleven.
”It will also be interesting to see who the seamers will be as they have lot of options there as well. India are the stronger side in my opinion on all fronts. As they will get extra batting options with Ashwin and Jadeja, I would go with Umesh as the third pacer.
”He is the guy Rohit can go to and say ‘I want you to bowl five overs at 140 plus and rough up the Australian batters’. You will need that extra pace,” said the 41-year-old.
He also expects reverse swing to play a huge role in the game.
”The ball does reverse at The Oval and we have seen how good the Indian bowlers are when it comes to reverse swing. They can get the ball to move more than the Australian pacers. ”It is for India to lose this game. They have all going for them and they just need to perform as per their skills,” feels England’s hero during the 2012 away series in India.
‘Pujara will be the x-factor batter for India’
Panesar has made an interesting choice by picking Sussex captain Cheteswar Pujara as the x-factor player for India. The right-hander has got tons of runs in county cricket over the last two seasons and was the only one playing red cricket when others were busy with the IPL.
”The Indian top-order is in form. The conditions will be similar to the Wankhede pitch which is fast and bouncy. My x factor batter will be Pujara because he has done so well in these English conditions for Sussex. He is the guy who binds this batting line up together,” he reasoned.
What makes Pujara special is his patience and ability to grind down this Australian attack which he has done successfully back-to-back series in 2018-19 and 2020-21.
”He is good with his defence and if the ball is going to do a little bit, he can negotiate the Aussie bowlers and when the pitch is flat, the others can cash in with some attacking cricket,” said Panesar, who also picked Ishan Kishan over KS Bharat as the wicketkeeper-batter in the side.
”You don’t need to be an extraordinary wicketkeeper in England. He has been keeping and batting well. He should play ahead of Bharat.” On comeback man Ajinkya Rahane, he added: ”He scored a fantastic hundred at Lord’s and M S Dhoni has reinvented him. There are not many players who can bat like he did in the IPL. He is a fine timer of the ball.”
Mitchell Starc provides the x-factor for Australia
Panesar concluded by saying that India need to be wary of Mitchell Starc in all phases of the game.
”For Australia, Starc will be the one to watch out for. He is going to be quick and he is going to get that late movement. He can change the game with one spell. He is the guy Australia will go to when they need a wicket,” he added.