New Zealand and India face off in a rare Test knockout, the culmination of two years of hard work.
The integrity of the World Test Championship is a contentious subject. The original format might have been okay, but it’s been marred by a global pandemic and has been reduced to a situation of way too many numbers.
Australia only misses out on the final because they were four overs short bowling on Day 2 of the 2020 Boxing Day Test. Alas we still have a mouth-watering contest, which will be a spectacle for any cricket fan.
Both teams have earned their spot but still have a lot to prove. New Zealand have been undermined because they were smashed by Australia away and relied mainly upon home results. They also had a tour of Bangladesh wiped out.
However, it can’t be denied they have assembled an amazing group of players, all of which on their day are unplayable. NZ silenced the critique that they can’t win away by defeating England in their backyard this week, their first series win there in 22 years.
A World Test Championship title will be a landmark for the best ever NZ cricket generation, slightly softening the blow of one and a half World Cup final defeats.
You could argue India already conquered their final frontier, beating a full-strength Australia away by ending the Gabba fortress. Yet there’s a few more things to check off the list for Virat Kohli to silence the most pessimistic critics.
After this game, India have a five-match series against England as well as a tour of South Africa at the end of the year. India might be the favourite for both series already, but a World Test Championship final win could be the crucial mental push that they need. They also would want revenge against New Zealand after last year’s demolition.
Both teams also have big selection dilemmas, good problems to have compared to Joe Root and Tim Paine’s though. Assuming Kane Williamson and BJ Watling are fit, the top six of NZ picks itself.
Devon Conway after two games already seems like a seasoned Test veteran at the top of the order. There’s also the all-rounder option of Colin de Grandhomme or Daryl Mitchell.
Spin is also of question. If they need it, they have to pick between all-rounder Mitch Santner or the traditional left armer Ajaz Patel. Now is the difficult part. NZ have five quality fast bowlers to pick from.
Tim Southee and Trent Boult are the reliable duo. Neil Wagner is the aggressive option and is the highest ranked quick. Matt Henry is the England specialist and the tormenter of India in 2019 while Kyle Jamieson offers steep bounce and handy runs.
Every bowler has succeeded against India and it is a tough choice but here is my XI for New Zealand: Devon Conway, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling, Kyle Jamieson, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Ajaz Patel, Trent Boult.
The first decision for India to make is who partners Rohit Sharma as opener.
Shubman Gill had a brilliant start to his career in Australia but was slightly underwhelming against England. People have quickly forgotten how successful Mayank Agarwal was in starting his career before he was exposed by his technique in Australia.
The rest of the batting is obvious, rounded off by the resurgence of Rishabh Pant.
Ravindra Jadeja is an obvious pick at number seven. He’s just as good as any sixth batsman option and is of course a handy bowler, and the best fielder in the world.
Ravichandran Ashwin should also be picked, proving in recent tours he can indeed be effective overseas and just recently he showed his prowess again with the bat.
This leaves just three spots for Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj.
Bumrah is the obvious pick. Siraj was the golden boy in Australia, and it seems harsh to leave him out. Both Shami and Ishant have been injured lately but are still very reliable pacers, especially in English conditions.
They can’t play all four due to a massive lack of batting between them, with a quartet only possible if Shardul Thakur plays. Here is my India XI: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah.
As for a prediction, this contest is too tough to call. The toss plus pitch conditions will probably be deciding factors. I’ll back my boys India but wouldn’t be surprised by another clinic from New Zealand.