On a rainy Manchester evening of 9 July 2019, the Indian team sat heartbroken in the dressing room having been beaten by New Zealand in a World Cup semi-final. Five days later, the Kiwis underwent similar emotions on the iconic Lord’s Cricket Ground balcony after a dramatic Super Over loss to England in the World Cup final.
Cut to 2021, the two teams will be facing each other in probably the most significant Test match of recent times, in an inaugural World Test Championship(WTC) final. Although the format two years ago was different, the WTC final will be a shot at redemption for both Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson.
Going by the English conditions, it is almost imperative that the bowlers from both sides are going to have a gala time on the south coast, where the WTC final will commence from June 18 in Southampton.
That said, New Zealand have had a near-perfect preparation for the summit clash despite having made as many as six changes for the ongoing second Test, some forced and some rotated ahead of the coveted final. Skipper Kane Williamson sat out of the game to nurse an elbow niggle, while pacers Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson were rested after the series opener against England at Lord’s.
While India are riding high on confidence after beating Australia and England in contrasting styles albeit in different conditions.
One of the biggest challenges Kohli and Co will face is to negate the New Zealand bowlers, who will thrive in conditions that will help seam and swing.
Virat Kohli redeemed himself in England as a master batsman in 2018 after his horror run in 2014. In that context, the current tour of England is an excellent opportunity for Kohli’s deputy Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara to assert their batting credentials in the challenging conditions of England. Incidentally, both Rahane (29.26) and Pujara (29.41) have got almost identical averages with one hundred each in England after having toured there twice since 2014.
Moreover, the high-voltage World Test Championship final against New Zealand this month is undoubtedly going to be one of the stiffest challenges for two of the senior middle-order batsmen of the current Indian team. At different times, both Rahane and Pujara have to go through an unfair comparison with the legend Rahul Dravid who set a unique benchmark for showing incredible assurance and plenty of runs in overseas conditions.
Additionally, New Zealand bowlers have excelled in England conditions, with Tim Southee taking 6 for 43 in the first innings at Lord’s, and Kyle Jamieson and Neil Wagner also collecting three wickets each in the drawn contest. In the second Test at Birmingham, apart from Boult, Matt Henry and Neil Wagner with their copious amount of pace and swing put England to the sword.
While the conditions are expected to favour the fast bowlers, India have two spinning options in Jadeja and R Ashwin. So the big question that arises here is, should India go in with three pacers and two spinners, or four pacers and one spinner?
It is often said bowlers win you Tests and batsmen win you white-ball matches. Given the English conditions and the Dukes’ cricket ball-this may prove to be the deciding point when it comes to the World Test Champion final. Bowlers on both sides would’ve drawn their plans for the opposition, its how much can they execute is what will decide the fate of the tie.
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