WTC Final - A look at India’s Strongest Probable XI Against NZ

With the IPL 2021 getting postponed indefinitely, the focus has now shifted to the all-important World Test Championship (WTC) final between table-toppers India and New Zealand, scheduled to be held next month between June 18-22 at Southampton in England.

The BCCI have announced a 20-member squad, including four standbys, for the WTC final and the subsequent 5-match Test series against England.


There are some surprising exclusions from the Test squad. While a few have returned after suffering injuries.


Notable Inclusions

Players such as Ravindra Jadeja, Hanuma Vihari, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav have returned to the red-ball squad after recuperating from their respective injuries.

There are four standby players in Abhimanyu Easwaran, Prasidh Krishna, Avesh Khan and Arzan Nagwaswalla.


Amongst the standby players, Krishna tested positive for COVID-19 on May 8 making his availability for the tour conditional. The pacer still has some time on his hand to recover as the WTC final is scheduled to be held only after more than a month. Apart from Krishna, wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha also tested positive for COVID-19 on May 4 and will have to test negative before joining the squad to tour England.


Notably, opener KL Rahul who underwent successful surgery for appendicitis on May 3, will have to clear a fitness test before boarding the flight to London next month.


Read Here: BCCI Indefinitely Suspended IPL 2021 with Immediate Effect


So, who aren’t in the squad?

Among the senior fast bowling unit, Bhuvneshwar Kumar has missed out from the squad. Barring his fitness issues, one perhaps couldn’t fathom what could be the reason behind his exclusion. On pitches in England where he could be a lethal force, leaving him out has made it one of the talking points centred around the selection in the cricketing circles in the country.

Besides, Prithvi Shaw’s exclusion from the squad has raised a lot of eyebrows. The Indian cricketer made a truckload of runs in the Vijay Hazare Trophy followed by a sensational IPL season. With the kind of form he was in, Shaw could have made an impact if given a chance in the series even if the format is different.


Here’s a look at the 20-member squad for the World Test Championship final against New Zealand:

Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (captain), Ajinkya Rahane (vice-captain), Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Washington Sundar, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, Umesh Yadav, KL Rahul (subject to fitness clearance), Wriddhiman Saha (subject to fitness clearance).

On that note, we look at the strongest probable eleven against New Zealand:


Openers: Rohit Sharma and Mayank Agarwal

Rohit Sharma has cemented the opening spot ever since he was given a chance to open against South Africa in the home Test series in late 2019. Sharma was brilliant in the last Test series against England earlier this year. When other batsmen succumbed on the abrasive surfaces, he showed character and took India to respectable totals. For India to produce win the WTC final, his role would be absolutely vital.


In a toss-up between Shubman Gill and Mayank Agarwal, perhaps the latter would be a better fit to open the innings in the WTC final to be held in Southampton. Mayank, lately, has been in fine form and would be more suitable to play against the moving ball in England. Gill, on the other hand, has been enduring a rough patch, lately.


Middle-Order: Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane

The trio forms the backbone of the Indian batting line up. Both the captain and vice-captain, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane have had a mixed bag when it comes to performances in England. The Indian skipper had a disastrous outing in England in 2014 when he managed just 134 runs in the 10 innings he came out to bat. He salvaged his honour in 2018, albeit in a losing cause when he played a lone hand for his country by scoring 593 runs in 10 innings with two centuries and three half-centuries.


Rahane, on the other hand, has scored 556 runs at 29.26 in the 10 Tests that he has played there. He has scored one match-defining century at Lord’s in 2014 which was a vital contribution to India’s second victory at the traditional home of cricket. Besides, he has also scored four half-centuries in England.


In a big game like the WTC final, India can’t really count on anyone more than these two.

Cheteshwar Pujara has been in pretty good touch and one expects him to hold the innings together and stay till the very end.


Wicket-keeper

Rishabh Pant is currently enjoying a great run in Test Cricket. His form would prove to be a blessing for a team that has faced challenges on the English surfaces. Pant recently became the first Indian wicket-keeper to enter in the top 10 of the ICC Men’s Test Rankings for batsmen. The southpaw has the potential to turn the game and take it away from the opposition pretty quickly. Pant had scored a century at the Oval in 2018 against England.


Spinners: Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin

Ravindra Jadeja has batted and bowled beautifully in the last few years, especially in Test Cricket. Jadeja, however, will be making a comeback in the Test squad after missing out in the series against Australia and England. Since the start of 2018, Ravindra Jadeja is averaging 55.57 with the bat [778 runs] and 26.07 with the ball [55 wickets] in 16 Tests.


Expect Ravi Ashwin to also find a spot in the playing eleven. The spin all-rounder has been sensational in the recent past. Though, in the last outing in Southampton, he didn’t have great returns. He picked 3 wickets in 2 innings, averaging 41.33.


Fast Bowlers: Mohammed Siraj/Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah

Mohammed Shami is coming off an injury he suffered during the Australia Tests. He will be making a comeback in the Test team this season. However, with Mohammed Siraj bowling extremely well, the skipper would be tempted to play him ahead of Shami. It is worth remembering here that Siraj bowled well in India A’s tour of England in 2018 when he ended up as the leading wicket-taker with 15 scalps at 17.73 runs apiece in the unofficial Tests versus England Lions and West Indies A, respectively.


Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah should complete the fast bowling unit. The duo would be very important on a track that could potentially aid seamers. Ishant was unavailable during the England Test series at home this year while Bumrah didn’t have much to offer. Come the WTC final, both would be raring to hit the ground running and get those early breakthroughs.


So far, Ishant Sharma finished as the second-highest wicket-taker for India in the World Test Championship, while Jasprit Bumrah sits at the fourth position. Ishant has claimed 36 wickets, while Bumrah has 35 wickets to his name.


Here's a look at the WTC Table:


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