WTC final FAQs: Dukes ball, reserve day, a first-of-its-kind Oval Test, and more

Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli walk back at stumps on Day 5 of the WTC final ICC via Getty

What is the WTC final? Is it a big deal?

The WTC final is essentially like the World Cup final, but for Test cricket. Since 2002, the ICC has awarded a trophy annually to the team that has topped the rankings, but since 2019, they began the World Test Championship (WTC), which sees nine teams compete in two-year cycles in a league. The top-two teams eventually face off in the final.

Who won last time?

The final in 2021 was the first ever, held in Southampton. New Zealand became the inaugural champions after beating India.

How did India and Australia get here this time?

The 2021-23 cycle of the WTC kicked off with India's tour of England in August 2021. India took a 2-1 lead in the series, but the fifth game was postponed to 2022, and England won that to draw the series 2-2. In between, India won a home series 1-0 against New Zealand and then travelled to South Africa, where they were beaten 2-1. It was also after this series that their Test captaincy was passed on from Virat Kohli to Rohit Sharma.

India then blanked Sri Lanka 2-0 at home, before that fifth Test against England. Their next Test series saw them go to Bangladesh, where they swept the hosts 2-0. But they were still not sure of qualifying when they faced Australia at home in their final series as part of the WTC cycle. However, a 2-1 series win, coupled with favourable results from Sri Lanka's tour of New Zealand sealed second place for them.

Australia, meanwhile, had started their WTC campaign with an emphatic 4-0 Ashes win at home. A three-Test tour of Pakistan followed, and after draws in the first two games, Australia won the decider in Lahore. Then in Sri Lanka, Australia took the lead in the series, but the hosts won the second Test as the series finished 1-1.

That followed another dominant home summer, which started with a 2-0 sweep of West Indies followed by a 2-0 win against South Africa in a three-Test series. However, Australia still hadn't secured their position in the WTC final when they went to India, but their solitary win of the tour, which came in Indore, and the draw in Ahmedabad were enough to see them qualify.

What ball will they play with in the final?

The Dukes ball, which is used primarily in England, Ireland and the West Indies, will be used for the final.

What happens if the Test is drawn or tied?

In that scenario, both Australia and India will share the WTC trophy for the 2021-23 cycle.

Why are they playing at The Oval and not Lord's?

The ICC wanted a "clean" venue in terms of sponsorships, and Lord's has some deals in place which made it untenable for the final. Lord's was supposed to host the 2019-21 WTC final too, but the Covid-19 pandemic forced it to be shifted to Southampton, where it was easier to maintain a bio-bubble for the teams.

Have they played many Tests at The Oval in June?

None at all. In fact, this will be the first time that The Oval will be hosting a Test in June. The earliest a Test has started there during the English summer is July 8 in 1982, when England drew against India, as Ian Botham scored a double-century.

When will the sixth day be used?

The WTC final does have a reserve day scheduled. But it will be used only if there has been play lost due to bad weather across the regular five days, they are unable to make up for it in those five days, and no result has been reached by the end of day five. The 2019-21 WTC final saw the first day completely washed out, and the game eventually went into the reserve day.

What's the weather forecast?

London is expected to stay mostly sunny through the first three days and the fifth day of the WTC final. However, there are spotty showers of rain expected in the afternoon on day four. The reserve day, should it come into play, is also expected to have clear weather.

Are the teams at full strength?

Unfortunately, neither team can claim to be at full strength. Josh Hazlewood, who picked up a side soreness during the IPL, was replaced in Australia's squad by Michael Neser three days before the big game. Meanwhile, India will be without key players like Rishabh Pant, Jasprit Bumrah, KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer.

How have India and Australia prepared for the final?

India trained at Arundel in Sussex for nearly a week, before moving to London for the final few days of preparation. While a majority of their contingent arrived in England in batches after the IPL, Cheteshwar Pujara, who did not get an IPL gig this year, has been playing for Sussex in the County Championship.

The Australian team also began preparations as a group after members joined them following the IPL. Some of their players too, like Steven Smith, Marnus Labuschagne and Neser, have had red-ball prep by playing county cricket. In fact, Smith and Pujara were team-mates at Sussex this year. Australia trained for three days in Beckenham before moving to London.

What are they playing for?

The winners will not only be awarded the Test mace, but will also get a prize of $1.6 million. The runners-up will go home with $800,000.