India’s title drought in ICC events continued as the dust finally settled at London’s Oval. Sunday’s 209-run defeat against Australia in the World Test Championship final meant that India yet again finished as second best. In 2021, New Zealand had humbled Virat Kohli’s men in the summit clash that concluded at Southampton. Cut to the present, it was Rohit Sharma’s men who suffered a loss; cumulatively, it extended India’s long gap in winning ICC silverware, with the last title being the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy. If South Africa choked in the past at vital moments, India seems to be the natural successor in doing the hard yards while always being short of breath at the finish line. This time however the hopes were centred on India’s better record against Australia, both at home and away. There was a recency bias at play too as since the 2018-19 season, India always prevailed over Australia in the longer format. However, Australia with a better record in ICC events starting from winning the 1987 World Cup at Eden Gardens, proved too tough an opponent. India’s pursuit of a miracle on the fifth day wilted as a poor first innings and a bowling unit struggling to strike had left Rohit’s men with too steep a mountain to climb.
Having flown in from the Indian Premier League, the Indian Test squad was under-cooked. To shed the Twenty20’s frenzied spirit and slip into a Test’s battle of attrition proved tough. The think-tank, influenced by overcast skies and some grass on the surface, stepped in with four seamers and the lone spinner in Ravindra Jadeja, while off-spinner R. Ashwin was inexplicably overlooked. It was a selection call that went awry as the weather stayed clear and the surface offered enough for both speedsters and spinners as evident in the performances of Aussies Scott Boland and Nathan Lyon. While Steve Smith and Travis Head posted hundreds, the Indian batters flickered despite Ajinkya Rahane’s fine show in the first outing. That Rohit, Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rahane are all on the wrong side of the thirties has dragged in ageism and transition blues. Bowlers need runs to defend and exert pressure and it is a luxury that has largely eluded the current unit. The selectors along with coach Rahul Dravid and skipper Rohit have to find a way. The ICC ODI World Cup later this year in India is another significant milestone and there has to be absolute clarity about team compositions be it for Tests, ODIs or T20s even if it means that hard measures have to be implemented.