India vs New Zealand WTC Final Preview: 6 days, 2 well-matched teams, and the maiden WTC trophy to play for
While New Zealand are brimming with confidence after their victory against England, India will have to draw on the self-belief attained from series wins against Australia and England to produce something special.
WTC journey: Tweaks, cancellations and a raging pandemic
An imperfect competition, confusion aplenty, COVID-19 induced breaks, cancelled/postponed series and a last-minute change in the method to determine the rankings of the nine teams involved in the World Test Championship.
After all this, the real deal is ultimately upon us as India and New Zealand take on each other at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton in the final of the World Test Championship - the first event of its kind.
520 pts vs 420, 72.2% vs 70.0
India played a total of 17 test matches from six series in the two-year cycle, winning 12, losing four and drawing one match. The team ended up with 520 points, exactly 100 points more than New Zealand, who won seven and lost four of their 11 test matches.
While the Kiwis stand at 70.0%, India are at 72.2%. Two of India's four losses came against Australia and England while the other two, and their only series defeat, came against New Zealand in New Zealand.
In fact, the visitors were completely outplayed in the series, with them losing both the test matches by comprehensive margins.
If there is one team India would not have liked to face in the final of the World Test Championship, it is New Zealand. The Kiwis have emerged as a real force in test cricket over the last few years. After an impressive test victory over England - though the series comprised just two matches - there was an evident difference in the quality of both sides.
New Zealand primed for the big clash, India can be rusty
New Zealand don't have a very good record away from home but that would not stand for much in the World Test Championship final, especially after their dominant performance against England.
They are also the better prepared side, having played two test matches in the given set of conditions as opposed to India who have got little practice apart from the inter-squad warm-up match after the team landed in the UK in the beginning of this month itself.
Ageas Bowl - blessing in disguise for India?
In line with all the other cancellations, postponements and last-minute changes, the WTC final, which was initially set to be held at Lord's, was moved to Southampton. This might be a blessing in disguise for India as the surface at the Ageas Bowl has always offered something to the spin bowlers over the last few years.
It won't come as a surprise to anyone, but there is a good chance of rain through the five days of the test match, and even on the 6th reserve day. As a result, the pace bowlers will be able to extract enough swing.
This is where the decision of team selection becomes tricky, particularly for India, who are likely to bank on spin bowling all-rounders Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin to do the job for them. However, the weather might just lead them to pick four pace bowlers and a lone spinner.
This is perhaps the only significant point of debate after the team announced their 15-member squad. If India go with just one spinner, Ravichandran Ashwin will get the nod ahead of Ravindra Jadeja - one of the best all-rounders in test cricket at the moment.
Mohammed Siraj will get a game if India go in with four pace bowlers. However, with the team having enjoyed a lot of success on the back of their spinners recently, they are expected to stick to the 3-2 combination with Ashwin and Jadeja providing them valuable runs lower down the order as well.
With Mayank Agarwal not included in the 15-member squad, Shubman Gill and Rohit Sharma will continue to open the batting for India. Rishabh Pant has come a long way as a test batsman and will bat at number 6. Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma will be India's three seamers.
Williamson and Watling declared fit
With both Kane Williamson and BJ Watling (playing in his last test) back to fitness, New Zealand appear a well-rounded side. Tom Latham and Devon Conway will open the batting for the Kiwis.
The big call they will have to take is to pick one between Colin de Grandhomme and Kyle Jamieson to bat at number 7 and share the bowling load with Neil Wagner, Tim Southee and Trent Boult. Ajaz Patel will be the only spinner in the Kiwi XI.
15-member squads for the WTC Final:
India - Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Siraj, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha, Umesh Yadav
New Zealand - Kane Williamson (c), Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Devon Conway, Colin de Grandhomme, Matt Henry, Kyle Jamieson, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls, Ajaz Patel, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner, BJ Watling, Will Young
Here's a look at the probable playing XIs:
India - Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja/Mohammed Siraj, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma
New Zealand - Tom Latham, Devon Conway, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling (wk), Colin de Grandhomme/Kyle Jamieson, Neil Wagner, Tim Southee, Ajaz Patel, Trent Boult
© Cricket World 2021