India, NZ set for battle royale as inaugural WTC final begins - GulfToday

India, NZ set for battle royale as inaugural WTC final begins

New Zealand

New Zealand players attend a training session ahead of their World Test Championship final. Reuters

India, boosted by the sun that has been drying the Hampshire Bowl pitch over the past few days, will hope to dent their biggest threat, New Zealand’s swing bowlers, in the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC) final that commences on Friday.

But unlike the Kiwis, who beat England 1-0 in a two-Test series this month, India are devoid of any match practice here and will head into a game of magnitude without any competitive match practice. Virat Kohli’s men, therefore, will have to recall all the past experience of playing in England.

India had played Kiwis in the WTC cycle, losing 2-0 in an away series last year. The Kiwis pace bowlers turned out to be unplayable as they ran through India’s batting order.

Ahead of the WTC final, there has been talk about how New Zealand’s pace bowlers could again trouble the Indians.

However, Hampshire Bowl pitch’s history of helping spinners as well as the bright sunshine that would leave the surface dry could offer encouragement to Indians who are likely to field two spinners in Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin.

Whatever be the nature of the pitch, India will have to start well whether they bat or bowl.

The New Zealand pace bowlers are seasoned and are aware of weaknesses in Indian batting. The Dukes cricket ball, which moves more than the Kookaburra, and throughout the day in England, will give them advantage against an India team that has not played any warm-up.

Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill have just got together and given hope to India who had been struggling to find a reliable opening pair. But the two are untested in English conditions at Test level, especially against the new ball. Sharma has played just one Test in England and that was way back in 2014. Gill is yet to play a Test in England.

Besides, Southee and Boult are extremely accurate.

Pitch curator Simon Lee has said he will give a pitch with pace and bounce and that could leave Kyle Jamieson smiling.

India too have an extremely good battery of pace bowlers, who have experience in England. In spin, they are much superior to the Kiwis.

The difference could lie in captaincy. While Kohli is aggressive and has, at times, made blunders that has cost India matches in the past, Williamson is reserved but remains in control of the match without showing any emotion. Williamson’s weapon is patience and that has allowed players around him to express themselves freely.

The two teams have played 59 Test matches with India winning 21 and losing 12. But 16 of those wins have come at home, in 34 Tests. In New Zealand, India have lost 10 and won only five of the 25 Tests they have played.

On a neutral venue though, the conditions could decide the course of the match. India will be hoping they get something similar to home.

Meanwhile, The World Test Championship (WTC) final between Virat Kohli-led India and Kane Williamson-led New Zealand will be a battle of two contrasting captaincy styles, say former international captains.

“Kane is very reserved, excellent player. He is very smart and strategic. Virat brings passion and leads from the front. Kane and Virat, as players, are two of the best batters in the world. Let us see how they manage themselves in the big stage like that,” said former South Africa skipper Graeme Smith who predicted New Zealand as winners.

“I am going to probably back New Zealand in England conditions to do well,” said Smith.

Former Australia leg-spinner Shane Warne, who is the second highest wicket-taker in Test cricket, said, “I am looking forward to the contrast in captains.” Ex-Australia Test skipper Ian Chappell said it won’t just be a battle between Williamson and Kohli on captaincy front but also on batting front.

“We are going to be fortunate to find two of the world’s finest batsmen going head to head in the World Test Championship final. Kane Williamson is a very effective batsman, Kohli a more flamboyant player. He has a tendency to do good things in big games,” said Chappell.

Former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd called this New Zealand side as one of the best they have had in their cricket history.

“It is one of the best sides they have had as far as their fast bowling is concerned, their bats are concerned and spinners are concerned. They are now a complete side,” said Lloyd.


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