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Forget Shardul V Ashwin, Umesh Over Undakat Is The Selection Slip That Could Decide The WTC Final

Sep 10, 2023Sep 10, 2023

Amidst all the noise around the Shardul vs Ashwin debate for the WTC Final, it is the Umesh over Unadkat call by India that can turn out to be more defining, writes Naman Agarwal.

Fans, pundits, and basically, everyone invested in the World Test Championship Final in any capacity had one raging debate going on before the game. Should India focus on the conditions and pick Shardul Thakur, or should they pick their best five bowlers and go with Ravichandran Ashwin?

The question was answered at the toss by Rohit Sharma when he said that they have gone in with four seamers looking at the conditions. He said that it was a ‘"difficult decision to leave a match-winner" like Ashwin out. Though India make it look quite easy, considering how often they do it.

There was another less hotly debated question about whether India should pick Jaydev Unadkat over Umesh Yadav. The general understanding was that India would go in with the incumbent Umesh. The question wasn't even asked at the toss. However, it might just be a mistake.

In Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav, and Shardul Thakur, India have picked four seamers for the WTC Final, out of which two (Umesh and Shardul) can be wayward on a good day, and a third (Siraj) can be quite temperamental as well.

Test matches often require long spells of ‘bowling dry’. Umesh and Shardul, while being wicket-takers on their day, are not very adept at that, as can be gauged from their Test career economy rates of 3.52 and 3.62 respectively. Unadkat on the other hand, has a first-class career economy rate of 2.95.

With Shardul being preferred over Ashwin for the bowling all-rounder role, India would have been better off going with a seamer who provided more control as managing two inconsistent bowlers becomes a headache for the fielding captain. As it turns out, till the 70-over mark in the first innings of the WTC Final, Umesh had bowled 14 overs for 0-54, conceding nearly four runs per over.

He conceded 21 runs in his first two overs itself, which included five boundaries, four of which came through repeated cut shots by David Warner in his second over.

Umesh has been around for a long time in international cricket, 13 years to be precise. And it is well known by now that while he is a master of exploiting the dry and dusty conditions in the sub-continent that aid reverse swing, he generally struggles outside Asia. His Test career bowling average of 39.24 outside Asia compared to that of 26.96 in Asia is a testament to that fact.

Umesh's performance in the last Test that he played at The Kia Oval in 2021 might have played a part in his selection in the XI for the WTC Final. He picked 6-136, including the prized scalp of Joe Root who was in red-hot form at that time.

However, the only other fast bowler available for selection for that game was Ishant Sharma, and India were in the process of moving on from him. For this Test though, they had the option of Unadkat, who would have, apart from his control, provided a left-arm variety as well, something India have lacked for a long time now, and his footmarks could have come into play too.

If Unadkat played, it would have been just his third Test match, and his first in England, something that might have prevented the team management from taking a punt on him for such a big game.

However, calculated risks like these are often what give you the edge on the big stage, and in going the conservative route of picking Umesh over Unadkat for the WTC Final, India might just have thrown away that opportunity.

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