R Ashwin suggests neutral venues for matches that count towards WTC points

R Ashwin claimed the 29th five-for of his Test career BCCI

A week before the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC) final in Southampton, India offspinner R Ashwin has suggested that one of the tournament's potential evolutions could be that teams play the bilateral series that count towards WTC points at neutral venues to "add context".

"If I may say this, it has to be the most exciting part of playing Test cricket. In all these years, it never happened - we've never played a team in a neutral venue," Ashwin said on bcci.tv. "But I think going forward, maybe the WTC could add context this way, [by having] two teams playing away from their home and sort of bringing the whole ebbs and flows of the game."

The WTC's first edition ran a two-year cycle starting in 2019. As per the original structure devised by the ICC, each team was to play six bilateral series, three at home and three away. To make each match count, points were handed out for every match, with the top two teams on the points table contesting a one-off final. The final of the first edition between India and New Zealand will happen in Southampton, a neutral venue, and Ashwin said it could add more to the quality of the tournament if the associated bilateral series took a similar route.

Ashwin's viewpoint was also shared by his India team-mate and fast bowler Mohammed Shami, who - also speaking to bcci.tv - said India and New Zealand squaring off in the final without either having a "home advantage" would make for good competition.

This is the second suggestion for potential improvements on the WTC coming from the Indian camp. Before their departure to England, head coach Ravi Shastri had said that a best-of-three series should be considered to crown the WTC winner, as opposed to a one-off game at the end of the two-year cycle. Shastri appreciated that conditions around the world may not be suited to such a series at the moment, but said it would be the "ideal" culmination to a two-and-a-half year tournament going forward.

'New Zealand will come in with an advantage'
India will be heading into this WTC final with less game time in the lead-up than New Zealand, who are currently playing the second Test of a two-match series against England in England. While the first game was truncated due to the weather and multiple senior players have been rested for the second, the workout in English conditions should offer New Zealand an advantage.

"I expect a very well-planned and well-knit New Zealand team to come at us," Ashwin said. "Obviously having played two Tests, they will definitely come in with an advantage. So we have to adapt to that."

Shami, though, who was part of the India team that played in England in 2018, echoed what Virat Kohli had said before India left for England - that preparation is often in the mind once you already have experience in certain conditions.

"Experience always works, doesn't matter what the result is, especially in Tests, when you know about the conditions and the type of situations that will come," Shami said. "The wickets, the wind, [all of it]. So it helps when you come back to such conditions."

Ishant Sharma, another experienced member of the squad, told the BCCI site that in English conditions something as simple as maintaining the ball well could make the bowlers' task easier.

"When you bowl in India, after the new ball you get reverse-swing," Sharma said. "When you play here, your length becomes fuller because the ball swings. Adjusting to that length is not easy. It takes a lot of effort. Because the weather is cooler here and it takes time to acclimatise.

"Somebody needs to take the responsibility to look after the ball, to maintain the shine and everything. And after that everything happens. If the ball is well maintained, it'll be easy for the fast bowlers to do the job for the team."