Rarely before has a group of players faced such a short turnaround from an IPL straight into a Test match in England but that is the challenge facing players from both India and Australia ahead of the World Test Championship final at the Oval with former Australia all-format allrounder Shane Watson describing the transition period as “extreme”.Modern players are used to jumping from format to format without much time but most of India’s team are facing an unprecedented turnaround between the IPL and a Test in England with Shubman Gill, Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammed Shami playing in the IPL final last Monday, leaving them just over a week to prepare for the WTC final starting on Wednesday. It is marginally more time than what New Zealand’s Trent Boult had last English summer when he played the IPL final on May 29 and played in a Test against England at Lord’s just four days later.Australia’s Cameron Green played the IPL Qualifier for Mumbai in Chennai on May 26 and flew home to Perth in Western Australia for the briefest of pitstops to see his partner, having not been home since January, before flying to London ahead of Australia’s first training session in Beckenham last Thursday. He has just five training sessions to acclimatise having never played first-class cricket in England before.
Watson is well-versed on switching between formats at short notice having been part of the IPL in 2013 and 2015 before playing in both Ashes series, albeit with longer lead-in times. He urged the players facing the same challenge to push themselves in the nets to get acclimatised to the Dukes ball after two months of T20 cricket in completely different conditions in India.
“There’s no doubt that this transition period for the guys I think is going to have to be extreme,” Watson told ESPNcricinfo. “Get as much volume as they possibly can facing new balls, trying to get the nets as spiced up as possible.
“That’s the only way you can get your game back into hitting the ball under your eyes. Yes, you need that positive, aggressive intent but still understanding what balls you can score off and what balls are higher risk.”
Gill, Jadeja and Shami along with Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and R Ashwin played in the last WTC final in England in June 2021 following the IPL. However, the postponement of the 2021 IPL on May 2 gave them more than a month to prepare, albeit with significant Covid challenges.
Many of India’s players also toured England after IPL seasons in 2014, 2018, and 2022 but had significantly more time to prepare on each occasion with the tours starting in July or August.
Like Watson, Warner and Steven Smith played in the 2013 and 2015 Ashes after playing in the IPL. But they also had a lot more time to prepare and even played first-class matches in England before the first Test of those series. In 2015 they played a two-Test series in the West Indies between the IPL and the Ashes. Warner and Smith also played in the IPL in 2019 and then had the 50-over World Cup in England prior to the Ashes.
Watson believes there can be no wasted moments in the training days the players have.
Shane Watson made a Test hundred at the Oval in 2013, the same year he was named player of the IPL•AFP
“I didn’t have that quick a turnaround,” Watson said. “It was always a challenge. Whether it’s going into a winter Ashes series or whether it’s going from a T20 series in Australia, flying and playing a Test match pretty much straight away, it is a big challenge.
“The thing you’ve got to understand is what you really need to work on if you’ve only got a couple of days.
“For me, the biggest thing came down to most importantly my defence. I ended up having to just work on facing the moving ball, making sure I was batting against bowlers with the moving ball or was getting throws against the moving ball and then just making sure I was locking in with my defence. Also just starting to get your head around leaving the ball again. What are the danger areas, more so the lines that bowlers would bowl and especially. The biggest challenge for all these guys and to Cameron Green is going to be around the Dukes ball because it swings so consistently.
“That’s where having a couple of tour matches, in particular, to get used to the ball just consistently swinging and doing something is what you really need to get your head around it. So for these guys having such a quick turnaround and not having a tour match, it’s going to be a huge challenge. Just to be able to get your game plan really locked in and then be able to do it ball after ball for a longer period of time.”
Josh Hazlewood has already been ruled out•ICC via Getty Images
Bowling workloads are also a major issue that may challenge India more than Australia. Hazlewood has already been withdrawn given his compromised preparation but Australia’s other four quicks in Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Scott Boland and Michael Neser have had long lead times to build up their red-ball bowling loads with Neser playing five first-class games for Glamorgan.
Both Green and India’s bowlers do not have the same luxury and face a similar, albeit slightly less farcical challenge to what Boult faced last year.
“My body was always a challenge building up workloads at the best of times,” Watson said. “Going from T20 cricket intensity with not a lot of fatigue compared to having to try and get your body up and get used to bowling a bit more with fatigue, that was always a challenge for me anyway. So I was always very careful and tried to map it out as much as I could.
“But obviously it’s a really quick turnaround for a few of the bowlers in particular. Again, it’s going to be sink or swim. They’ve got no choice. They’ve just got to throw themselves into it and hope that their bodies can hold up and the captains are able to manage the bowlers who are going into playing this Test without a lot of work under their belt.”
Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo