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The green challenge: India keep an eye on WTC final

A green top in Ahmedabad for the fourth Test? The mere suggestion may seem outlandish, but there was nothing frivolous about India skipper Rohit Sharma’s tone and tenor. Provided India win the third Test in Indore and qualify for the World Test Championship (WTC) final at the Oval in London from June 7-11, a pitch tinged with grass could be in store at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad to prepare for the conditions in England.

India need to win just one of the remaining two Tests against Australia to qualify for the WTC final for the second successive time. They lost to New Zealand in the summit clash of the inaugural edition in England in 2021.

“There is definitely a possibility of that (a pitch with grass in Ahmedabad). We have already spoken about it. We need to get the guys ready for it,” Sharma said on Tuesday, responding to a query that pointed to a grassy surface at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata for a Test against Sri Lanka in 2017 in preparation for a tour of South Africa.

With India’s players subjected to a heavy diet of T20s in the Indian Premier League (IPL) after the conclusion of this series, Sharma’s willingness to look at the bigger picture merits praise. He even mentioned all-rounder Shardul Thakur as an important part of their plans in seam-friendly conditions. Thakur, whose wedding in Mumbai was attended by Sharma and Shreyas Iyer on Sunday, adds immense value to the Test team outside the subcontinent with his seam bowling and batting ability at No 8.

“The important one is Thakur, because he comes into the plans for us. We don’t know how many overs he has bowled recently. But that thought process is definitely there. If we do what we do here and get the result we want, we might think of doing something different in Ahmedabad for sure,” Sharma said.

When Australia’s stand-in skipper Steve Smith was informed about Sharma hinting at a green pitch for the fourth Test if India win here, he couldn’t help but smirk.

“I guess we will wait and see,” Smith laughed. “Hopefully, we don’t let them get the job done here. We will see what happens from there.”

Australia need a draw either in Indore or Ahmedabad to advance to the WTC final. Sri Lanka, the other team in contention, need to win their series in New Zealand 2-0 and hope that the India-Australia series doesn’t end 3-0 or 3-1 in the home side’s favour.

Irrespective of which team makes the WTC final, Sharma expects a fair contest for the title given that there will be no home advantage. “It’ll be a different ball game, for both teams actually. We have to win this game and then talk about it. We have played a lot of cricket in England over the last couple of years. Australia have also played a lot of cricket there. Sri Lanka probably have played a lot of cricket there as well. It’s not going to be alien conditions as such,” Sharma said.