Three key battles in the Australia v India World Test Championship final
Australia and India meet this week in the second World Test Championship final in a match worth $1.6 million to the winners and $800,000 to the runners-up.
The fixture at the Oval, which starts on Wednesday, marks the culmination of a two-year qualifying process.
Here is a look at three key battles that could determine the course of the showpiece match.
Steve Smith v Cheteshwar Pujara
Several members of Australia’s squad acclimatised to English conditions ahead of the final with stints at county sides but India batsman Cheteshwar Pujara found himself captaining fellow number three Steve Smith during the Australia star’s brief stint with Sussex.
Pujara, 35, enjoyed a purple patch for Sussex that included three hundreds in six innings in April and May, while the highest score Smith could manage was 89.
Smith, however, has a superb Test record at the Oval, averaging nearly 98, with two hundreds in three matches.
No wonder the 34-year-old described the Oval is “a wonderful place to play cricket in”.
“Lightning-fast outfield, the square goes the whole way across the ground so it is a nice place to bat when you get in and has some decent pace and bounce for an English surface,” he said.
Pujara, unlike Smith, is now a one-format player, such is the strength of India’s limited-overs sides, but his patient method of accumulating runs could prove valuable against a powerful Australia pace attack.
“Certainly we’ve had conversations with Puji, obviously about batting, but he also leads Sussex so he’s got a good handle on tactics and strategy,” said India coach Rahul Dravid.
Pat Cummins v Mohammed Shami
Australia captain Pat Cummins and rival India paceman Mohammed Shami will both have extra responsibility in the absence of injured quicks Josh Hazlewood and Jasprit Bumrah.
During the drawn 2019 Ashes series in England the now 30-year-old Cummins led Australia’s attack with 29 wickets in five matches at a miserly average of 19.62.
Shami may not be able to boast similar figures, but at his best the experienced seamer gives India captain Rohit Sharma great control in the field.
Spin to win?
Australia off-spinner Nathan Lyon has been his country’s leading specialist slow bowler for more than a decade, with 482 Test wickets at an average of just over 31 apiece.
India counterpart Ravichandran Ashwin is also closing in on 500 Test wickets, with 474 at 23.93.
India have sometimes been reluctant to play Ashwin in English conditions.
But a dry pitch expected to take turn could mean Ashwin, number one in the ICC Test bowling rankings, is deployed alongside left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja.
Ashwin has a fine Test record against Australia, with 114 wickets at an average of under 29, and he shared the player-of-the-series award with Jadeja in the home series win against Australia earlier this year.