World Test Championship final: Clash of titans
International Cricket Council moved into the unknown in their inaugural World Test Championship, which started on 1st August 2019. The idea was first discussed in 2009, and it took close to 10 years to take the final shape. It started with the Ashes and then went on for close to two years and was heavily impacted by the global pandemic hit in 2020.
Despite the changes in the schedule and point system, the World Test Championship provided some great Test matches and memorable moments to finally culminate in the World Test Championship final to be played from 18th June. The final was expected to be a glamorous event at Lords’, the home of cricket but the pandemic related restrictions resulted in it moving to Southampton.
The journey so far in World Test Championship
The two opponents in the final would not be much bothered by the change of venue as both India, and New Zealand have proved their superiority and are ready to play at any condition. They would also believe that they have the firepower to perform in any situation.
India’s road to final
India started with a relatively easy assignment of playing West Indies in the Caribbean, which they won. They continued their winning run at home against South Africa and Bangladesh when they also played their first-ever Day-Night Test match. The Indian team faced their first defeat against New Zealand as the Kiwis beat them at home. Post this series; there was a long gap as the entire world was fighting with the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, India made a strong comeback against Australia in their backyard as they won the series 2-1 despite losing the first Test in a demoralizing way. It was almost like a fairy tale win as it came based on many youngsters’ performance. India completed their campaign with another win at home. Their opponent was England, whom they beat 3-1 as again some new stars like Axar Patel made their mark. Overall, India won 12 Test matches and lost 4 as part of their journey. Some of their key players were Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
New Zealand’s road to final
Unlike the Indians, the New Zealand team struggled in the early stage of the World Test Championship. They started with a 1-1 scoreline against Sri Lanka before losing 0-3 against Australia. They changed their luck with the win over India and then recorded some strong performances to take them near the top of the points table. They beat West Indies 2-0 and then replicated the same score against the Pakistan side as their captain Kane Williamson lead from the front.
Along with Williamson, their fast bowlers impressed all with their performances during the World Test Championship. Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagnor developed deadly fast bowling combinations that made the batters worldwide struggle. They also have Kyle Jamieson, who made his debut against India and made himself one of their key players.
Indian cricket team
Although both the teams, especially India, had to play a long list of players during the tournament duration, finding the best possible eleven for the final will be a key factor for both the teams. India now has most of their first-choice players fit and available for the final. They will have a strong batting lineup in Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, and Ajinkya Rahane, who will have most of the responsibility on their shoulder. They will also have a couple of youngsters to depend on in Rishabh Pant and Shubman Gill. Since the Australia tour, Pant has been a revelation for India and can be the X-factor in India’s lineup. His attacking approach can change the game’s fate from trickier situations, as he has already proved.
In the bowling lineup, India will be led by Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and the experienced Ishant Sharma. Ravichandran Ashwin’s recent form with bat and ball will also ensure that he is considered as the lead spinner. With all these 10 spots fixed, India will still debate on their eleventh player, a toss-up between a proper batter in Hanuma Vihari and Ravindra Jadeja, arguably the world’s best all-rounder last 12-18 months period. Whether they want to go for the solidity of Vihari or the all-around impact of Jadeja will be an interesting call.
India’s squad for WTC Final: Virat Kohli (captain), Ajinkya Rahane (vice-captain), Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rishabh Pant (wicketkeeper), Hanuma Vihari, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Wriddhiman Saha (wicketkeeper), Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Siraj.
New Zealand cricket team
New Zealand recently unveiled a new star in world cricket in Devon Conway. The southpaw took to Test cricket as fish felt comfortable in the water and started with a majestic double century. He has added lots of strength to this team and can create lots of problem for the Indian bowlers. Conway will get support from experienced Williamson, Tom Latham, and Ross Taylor. Their wicketkeeper BJ Watling has already announced that this will be his last Test and will be a key player in both front and behind the wicket.
Tim Southee, Boult and Wagnor are the sure starters for the side, but they still have doubts regarding a couple of team positions. Keeping in mind the Indian batters struggle against pace and swing, they may consider playing four fast bowlers and add Matt Henry as the fourth pacer. Henry had a brilliant Test match against England just before this final. In other options, they can play the off-spinner Ajaz Patel and include Colin de Grandhomme to handle the additional pace bowling responsibility.
New Zealand’s squad for WTC Final: Kane Williamson (c), Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Devon Conway, Colin de Grandhomme, Matt Henry, Kyle Jamieson, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls, Ajaz Patel, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner, BJ Watling, Will Young.
Rishabh Pant has been at the peak of his career over the last couple of years. He has proved himself in every format, and the Test hasn’t been any different. Pant has had an immense contribution behind the good show of the Indian cricket team in the World Test Championship. In Australia at Sydney, when there was no one, Pant took the lead. The Brisbane Test wasn’t any exception. Moreover, he managed to continue his form against England too. This clearly means Pant will be a key player for Virat Kohli for a happy ending.
Ravichandran Ashwin was unparalleled as an all-rounder in Australia. When the Indian team was without most of their first-string players and regular captain, the senior bowler in the side performed for the side with both bat and ball. The series win in Australia was not possible without the dynamic R Ashwin. In the list of highest wicket-takers so far in the WTC, R Ashwin is the first name from India with 67 scalps from 13 games at an average of 20.88, while the topper Pat Cummins owns 70.
In 14 innings of nine matches, New Zealand captain Kane Williamson scored 817 runs at an average of 58.35, including three hundred and one fifty. However, it is not just his batting but his overall presence that matters for New Zealand. The captain led multiple times with example, and in the important final match against India, all eyes will be on him. Williamson is back from his elbow injury and all set to take on the Virat Kohli-led team.
Kyle Jamieson has played only six matches in this journey of New Zealand to take 36 wickets. He debuted during India’s New Zealand tour in Test cricket and took nine wickets in two matches. His consistent efforts and performances helped him become the second wicket-taker of New Zealand on the journey to date. This upcoming pacer of New Zealand will be the focus in the final match, and New Zealand will look up to him for another good show.