With the World Test Championship (WTC) final between India and New Zealand now only a few days away, the excitement and jubilation for the event is keeping the cricket fans on the edge of their seats. Both teams are gearing up for probably the biggest game in the history of Test cricket.
New Zealand are coming into the final on the back of a successful 1-0 series win against England in England - a feat achieved for the first time since 1999. They would certainly be brimming with a lot of confidence. Kiwi bowlers too would be excited to relish the conditions on offer at Ageas Bowl in Southampton.
Having said that, the India bowlers too would be equally exciting about bowling on a track where seam would be on offer. The likes of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Siraj and Umesh Yadav make up for a strong fast-bowling unit and one could predict an even contest in the final.
Nonetheless, amidst all the talks regarding the pace battery of both sides, the one thing which would be talked about a lot in the coming days is the pitch that would be on offer. ESPNcricinfo recently interacted with the head groundsman at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, Simon Lee to know about the preparation of the pitch for the finals.
The Pitch at Ageas Bowl in Southampton
With an eye on keeping the bowlers in the game at all times, Lee is hoping to prepare an ideal Test match wicket - one that will have the cricket lovers watch every ball of the Test, right from day one to day five. The 22-yard strip is expected to have ‘pace, bounce and carry’, as per the head groundsman.
Lee, however, added that the pitch will not be biased towards seam movement and with a good weather forecast during match days, the hard surface will have just enough pace to enable a fair contest between bat and ball.
"For me personally I just want to get something out that has some pace, bounce and carry in the pitch. It can be a hard thing to do in England as the weather doesn't help us most of the time, but the forecast in the build-up is good with a lot of sun, so we are hopeful that we'll get some pace and a hard pitch without over-rolling it and killing it,” Lee was quoted as saying by ESPNCricinfo.
"Pace just makes red-ball cricket exciting, I'm a cricket fan and I want to produce a pitch where the cricket lovers have to watch every ball in case they miss something, be that some class batting or an amazing spell of bowling. A maiden over can be quite exciting if it's a battle of skill between both bowler and batter. So, yeah, if we can get some pace and bounce in the pitch, but not too one-sided towards seam movement, we'll be happy," he added.
The weather forecast for match days shows that the temperatures will hover between 11 to 20 degrees Celsius in Southampton and faint showers are expected on June 20 and 22.
Lee also believes that spin has the potential to become a key factor too, if the conditions remain mostly dry and the match extends to the final two days.
"As I said, the forecast is looking okay, the pitches dry out very quickly here as we do have some sand mixed into our cricket loam, which helped it hold together when the pitches were re-laid some 10 years ago, but it can help it spin as well,” he said.
"Pitch preparation for this Test is a little simpler as we are a neutral venue, we are guided by the ICC, but we all want is a good pitch that offers an even contest between the teams," he added.
With WTC final just a few days away, we look at the strongest probable XI of India against the Kiwis:
Openers: Rohit Sharma and Mayank Agarwal
Wicket-keeper: Rishabh Pant
Spinners: Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja
Bowlers: Mohammad Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Siraj
The Ageas Bowl in Southampton has hosted six Tests to date from 2011. All the matches have involved the host nation. Three Tests have produced results while three have been drawn. India have played two Tests here against the home team and have lost both; they lost by 266 runs to England in 2014 and by 60 runs to them in 2018. New Zealand will be playing their maiden Test at the venue when the final begins on June 18.