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WTC Final – India vs NZ: Key battles in clash between Strength and Method; BCCI announces playing XI

Updated: Jun 18, 2021

Back in 2009, the former New Zealand skipper, Martin Crowe came up with the idea of hosting the World Test Championship in a bid to boost the interest in the longest format. Come 2021, another New Zealand skipper, Kane Williamson has marshalled his troops to the final of the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC). Facing them in the summit clash are the Indian Cricket Team, led by global icon Virat Kohli.

Both the teams will battle it out from June 18-22 in what will be arguably the biggest game in the history of Test Cricket. The Men in Blue despite starting their campaign with seven consecutive wins had to fight out till their very last Test to book their place in the summit clash. Eventually, India and New Zealand emerged as the two finalists with 520 and 420 points respectively, as on June 12, 2021.

Kiwis – Methodical and persistent

It was New Zealand who defeated India in the heart-crushing ICC 2019 World Cup semi-final. It was New Zealand who put a stop to India’s 7-match winning streak in the World Test Championship. And, once again, it’s New Zealand whom India would face in the final of the WTC. How the Men in Blue fare against the Blackcaps this time around remains to be seen.

The conditions and winning momentum are certainly in favour of the Blackcaps. They might not have started their WTC campaign on an auspicious note but their recent form is nothing short of exemplary. The Blackcaps are coming into the encounter on the back of a 1-0 series win against England in England.

With an overseas series win against a strong team like England, the Kiwis would be brimming with confidence. Their positive mindset on the field is going to be a big plus. The inclusion of Devon Conway has only strengthened them as a unit. Add to that the fact that Kane Williamson will be back to lead the unit after missing out due to an injury in the second Test against England.

The top-order comprising of Tom Latham, Devon Conway, Williamson and Ross Taylor needs no changes. They have an equally potent fast-bowling attack, which comprises Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner and Kyle Jamieson. All four are match-winners and would love to bowl at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Southampton.

The only confusion they are going to have is to decide between all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme and spinner Ajaz Patel. New Zealand don’t have a lot of depth in their batting unit. If they don’t play Grandhomme, they might fall short of one batsman. However, not going with any spinner could also cost them if the ball starts to turn heavily in the final two days of the Test.

India – One of the Strongest Units in WTC

On paper, India looks equally daunting. The Men in Blue have got some of the best batsmen in world cricket. Of the top six batsmen, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane have scored more than 1000 runs during the World Test Championship cycle. However, whether they would be able to replicate those performances in the final in seaming conditions without match practice is a big concern. One bad performance and all the hard work put in for the last two years might go in vain.

Though, this isn’t the first time they are visiting England to play a Test match. Their record in the first match of a tour isn’t great, however, this shouldn’t be an excuse, to say the least. With Virat Kohli not in the best of form, the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane must come good to romp India home in the summit clash.

Another Indian cricketer who will be in the spotlight is Rishabh Pant. The southpaw has made a lot of noise in the last one year, especially in Tests. In his last seven Tests starting from the Boxing Day Test against Australia, he has managed to cross 50 as many as 5 times. With him being in superlative form, he remains key to India’s fortune in the summit clash. He was at the heart of India’s series win against Australia in the Border-Gavaskar series. It’s his chance to enhance his reputation as a match-winner in what could the most important game of his Test Cricket career.

India’s bowling unit has been perhaps the biggest talking point right now. The dilemma around choosing the five bowlers remains the biggest headache for the Indian Team Management. Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami and Ravindra Jadeja are likely to be in the playing XI. However, who would be the other two bowlers between Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Siraj and Ashwin remains to be seen.

Key Battles to Watch

We look at some of the key battles which could define the fate of the World Test Championship final:

1. Virat Kohli vs Tim Southee

Indian skipper Virat Kohli and New Zealand seamer Tim Southee have come face to face in nine Tests. The Kiwi seamer has got the star Indian batsman out on three occasions, two of which have been leg before wicket. Kohli has scored 109 runs off 214 deliveries from Boult which include 16 fours, 1 six and 169 dot balls.

The Indian skipper improved his record in England in 2018 when he scored 593 runs at 59.30 in five Tests against the home team; his haul included two centuries. This was after his abject failure in 2014 when he managed just 134 runs in five Tests at 13.40. The observers of the game would be eager to see how Kohli fares in the English conditions against the Kiwi seamer.

2. Trent Boult vs Rohit Sharma

Rohit Sharma and Trent Boult both have been wonderful throughout the World Test Championship cycle. While one has scored more than 1000 runs, the other one has picked more than 30 wickets. Rohit and Trent have come against each other four times in the past in Tests. Trent Boult has got Rohit out on only one occasion.

Rohit has scored 57 runs off 114 balls he has faced from Boult in Tests which include 5 fours, 1 six and 82 dot balls. The two have been teammates at Mumbai Indians from 2020 onwards.

The fans would hope that Hitman gets the better of Boult this time around and notch a big innings in the finals. India’s hopes will be hinged upon Rohit’s performance as an opener and it is up to the Hitman to live up to the expectations in the big game. The Indian batsman would have to counter the left-armer Boult and Southee first up with his seamless technique to deliver the goods.

3. Ross Taylor vs Ravichandran Ashwin

Another key battle that will engage the fans will be between seasoned Kiwi batsman Ross Taylor and India’s premier off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin. Taylor has been dismissed on five occasions by Ashwin in the 6 Tests they have come face-to-face. Two of these dismissals have been bowled and one leg before wicket. Taylor has scored 99 runs off 174 deliveries with 10 fours and 3 sixes while negotiating 125 dot deliveries.

The experience of both these players against each other will make for an interesting battle on the field. Ashwin is India’s second-most successful bowler against New Zealand with an astonishing haul of 48 wickets in just 6 Tests. He is just seven wickets behind legendary off-spinner Erappalli Prasanna who took 55 wickets in 10 Test matches against the Kiwis. In terms of strike rate, Ashwin is ahead with 33.1 balls per wicket as compared to Prasanna who took his wickets at a strike rate of 53.5.

4. Kane Williamson vs Jasprit Bumrah

While Ashwin has dismissed New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson on five occasions, this time around people would be interested to gauge the battle between India’s best fast bowler, Jasprit Bumrah’s bowling against one of the top four batters in the modern game. Williamson has come face-to-face in two Tests against Jasprit Bumrah with the latter dismissing him on two occasions. The Kiwi batsman has scored 33 runs off 57 deliveries he has faced from India’s strike bowler with 6 fours. Bumrah has bowled 44 dot balls to Williamson.

It is worth recalling here that the result summary of the Test matches between the two sides elucidates that India has won 21 of the 59 matches played between the two nations with the Kiwis managing to win in 12 encounters. A total of 26 Test matches have ended in draws.

BCCI declares final Playing XI

On the eve of the marquee clash between India and New Zealand, BCCI gave a great sigh of relief to its millions of cricket fans by announcing the final playing XI for the WTC Final. They took the social media route and announced via their twitter handle.

With this BCCI clears what fans have been confused over for all these days. Team India will feather 5 bowlers in Ravi Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami. It was kind of a tie between Siraj and Ishant Sharma for one slot but, India chose experience in form of Ishant Sharma over Siraj. If it spins on day 4 and 5 then, Ashwin and Jadeja have a crucial role to play for India.

India Playing XI: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Chesteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah.

New Zealand Probable XI: Tom Latham, Devon Conway, Kane Williamson (capt), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling (wk), Colin de Grandhomme, Tim Southee, Ajaz Patel/Kyle Jamieson, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult.

This is going to be India's first Test at a neutral venue. New Zealand, on the other hand, have played 6 Tests at neutral venues with 3 wins, 2 losses and one draw. The two sides will come face-to-face in the WTC final in Southampton between June 18-22. There will be a reserve day on June 23 for the match.


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