There is a reserve day (June 23) in place, however, the teams will be declared joint winners if an outcome is still not procured.
Test cricket has never had world champions. In the next four to six days, what has not happened in history worth 144 years would change as India and New Zealand clash in arguably the most high-octane red-ball contest ever. Perhaps it might not be the best Test ever played. If anything of that sort exists. Perhaps the team that wins might not be the perfect Test team ever either. Has there been one, anyway? Such questions never have absolute answers, never will. But would the winner of this clash be labelled World Champions? There you have the absolute answer, yes.
It is in this sense that the World Test Championship is Test cricket’s most significant battle, which pits up two top teams in a showdown and culminates a gruelling two-year cycle, which was gruelling not merely in cricketing parlance but more ways than one courtesy Covid-19.
One would doubt if there ever has been more limelight around Test cricket; if there ever has been more at stake in a bilateral red-ball event. The ICC must be a happy organization, then. After all, contextualizing Test cricket is what they aimed for. And the fact that finally a mechanism has been devised that takes stakes in this format this high, those sitting in the ICC headquarters in Dubai can give each other a pat on the back. Not to forget, that it is only the start of something much more substantial.
Let’s talk cricket, then. Shall we? New Zealand are probably better equipped, better acclimatized and battle-hardened, having handed hosts England a 1-0 defeat in a two-Test series, unlike their rivals India, who have had to rely on intra-squad match-simulation to remove the cobwebs while undergoing an arduous quarantine. But memories need not be stretched too far to realize India’s odds-defying capability who pipped Australia 2-1 in their backyard despite being severely bruised and toned down.
But what neither of these teams has is the luxury of comebacks. This is a shootout, plain and simple. And as if that is already not enough to make it an intriguing contest, there is the proposition of some enthralling individual match-ups – when teams comprising Kohli, Pujara, Willaimson, Taylor, Bumrah, Shami, Boult and Southee collide, that’s bound to happen.
Does the recipe to ace the WTC challenge bogs down to winning in these match-ups? It does, to some extent. And to the larger extent, what Virat Kohli has never been tired of emphasizing: win sessions and the small battles. The sessions in a Test are the pixels of a beautiful, large image that leaves all in awe. And, in making that image look the way it does, every single pixel has its own importance.
Going forward, India would be keen to better themselves in doing that, especially given the contest is against New Zealand, a team against whom they have struggled historically in major events, with their last ICC-event victory coming in 2004. Ever since then, New Zealand have had the better of India twice in T20 World Cup (2007, 2016) and most heartbreakingly during the ODI World Cup, 2019. If that does not suffice, the two teams’ meeting in this WTC cycle has gone their way too, with India losing the away series 2-0 in February 2020.
But when speaking of heartbreaks, look no beyond New Zealand, who have had a reputation of ending up on the wrong side of the spectrum more often than not. ODI World Cup finals 2015 and 2019, remember? Sealing the WTC final against India, the rulers of cricket in quite a few senses, there are few ways better than these to compensate for those losses. Then there is also the added incentive of retaining the top spot in the ICC rankings, which every captain would take every single day of the week.
This does not mean that there is anything less for India to achieve. Despite his ginormous achievements, an ICC title remains elusive from Kohli’s trophy cabinet. Getting off the mark with this one would be one heck of a start. So then, all this riding on one single clash. The task will be uphill for both sides. Isn’t that where the beauty of Test cricket lies?
Pitch and conditions
It is the summer in England, but what’s an English summer without rain? What one can’t miss in all the furore surrounding the final clash is the Southampton weather, which – to the disliking of many – might dominate the agenda more than cricket in the next few days, with drizzle and thunderstorms expected on most days of the game. There is a reserve day (June 23) in place, however, the teams will be declared joint winners if an outcome is not procured.
Unlike the usual pace-friendly UK tracks, Southampton is known for assisting spinners, while the groundsman Simon Lee hoping that the pitch will have pace, bounce and carry with spinners coming in later “if the conditions remain dry”.
Playing combinations for IND vs NZ
Mayank Agarwal’s axing confirms Indian openers, who will be followed by a middle-order that picks itself. The biggest question remains if India should play four seamers or three. Given the overcast conditions throughout the Test, the pacers might have a bigger role, but leaving either Ravichandran Ashwin or Ravindra Jadeja means India compromises on its batting depth. That’s unlikely.
Despite a brilliant start to his Test career, it remains improbable that Mohammed Siraj will be preferred over Ishant Sharma while playing two spinners means Hanuma Vihari will be unlucky to miss too.
Predicted XI: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (C), Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (WK), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma/Mohammed Siraj, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah
Much like the Indian top-order, New Zealand has little fuss in selecting theirs. Devon Conway’s stellar show recently means he would pair with Tom Latham with Williamson, Taylor, Henry, and BJ Watling, who will play his last Test, following.
The headache for New Zealand remains whether to go all-pace or play Ajaz Patel. Given he was chosen ahead of Mitchell Santner, it is an indicator of management’s thinking. With Southee, Boult, Wagner and Jamieson sure starters, Patel can only make way at the expense of Colin de Grandhomme.
Predicted XI: Devon Conway, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson (C), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling (WK), Kyle Jamieson, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult, Ajaz Patel
IND vs NZ Head-to-Head
Played – 59 | India – 21 | New Zealand – 12 | Draw – 26
This will be India’s first Test at a neutral venue. New Zealand has played six in the UAE, all against Pakistan.
This is New Zealand’s maiden Test at Southampton.
This is the 11th instance of India playing an ICC final, going past Australia (10).
Ishant Sharma is a solitary scalp away from 200 away Test wickets, while two strikes for Trent Boult will take him to 600 international wickets.
Virat Kohli is set to pip MS Dhoni’s record of 60 Tests as Indian skipper.
IND vs NZ Broadcast Details
Match Timings- 3:00 PM (IST)
TV – Star Sports 1, Star Sports 1 HD, Star Sports 1 Hindi and Star Sports 1 Hindi HD
Live Streaming– Disney+Hotstar VIP, Jio TV