India are set to beat New Zealand in the second Test with Ravichandran Ashwin taking three second-innings wickets as the visitors, chasing 540, fell to 5-140.
Time for the inaugural World Test Championship final: India and New Zealand – two teams that have arrived at this juncture in contrasting manners.
New Zealand reached the summit first and needed some luck and heroics from India to ensure it was not a Trans-Tasmanian rivalry or repeat of the 2019 World Cup.
India leapfrogged Australia by beating them in their own den and England while punching their ticket to Southampton.
Gallons of ink have already been poured while singing paeans of young team India which braved all adversity and delivered a knockout punch to those mighty Aussies and pained Paine and his team where it hurt most.
Already a folklore when young turks of India stood up to the verbal barrage of the Aussies and emerged triumphant – but then that was almost six months back.
India, and the rest of the world, in the meantime had gone through another season of IPL and at the beginning of 2021 it was perceived that the dreaded coronavirus had left and sanity would be restored in the world.
But then the famous second wave arrived in India and boy, it was lethal.
The IPL had to be put on the shelf and India went through a series with England, yet again winning and quashing the English challenge. But again, that has been a tale of yesterday and focus is on Southampton, venue of the final bout.
The ICC came up with this brilliant concept of a WTC hoping to increase the popularity of cricket’s truest form.
Cracking contests ensured they did well, but the planning had a glitch. What was spread over a 27-36 month period will have its final context reduced to a single game.
Typically, finales are treated differently. Finales make for great interest and increased eyeballs. Organisers suddenly seemed in a hurry to end the championship.
An anti-climax, of sorts.
You play a multi-Test series with each other and the top two battle for a single Test and it’s winner takes all – seriously?
Teams battled for 2-2.5 years, reached the top and instead of them having a longer battle, viewers get a single game in June in the UK. If one of the teams has a bad day or even a single session, the final is virtually over.
The weather gods are always looming large in the UK in June.
India enters the final at a disadvantage to the Black Caps.
Indian fans have always accepted New Zealand and the West Indies as the two teams to cheer for if their own isn’t playing.
Indians have always had high regard for Kiwis and treat them as a cousin, if not immediate family. Yes, but in sports, you root for the second favourite when the first one isn’t playing and now the first one is, so sorry, Kiwis – these 1.3 billion supporters are only rooting for their own.
New Zealand, on the other hand, have just played a two-Test series in England and if those results are any indication, they look prepared and have demonstrated their terrific bench strength, firing in unison like a well-oiled machine.
The Indians haven’t had a chance to be match ready and can satisfy themselves with intra-squad battles but everyone knows friendly games never match the intensity of the battle.
On paper, both teams look pretty solid and balanced. They look like the two best teams that came out of the tournament.
Batting seems to be strong for both, especially with the arrival of Devon Conway, who has emerged on the scene with a bang in the last few months and has shown temperament to be Test match ready.
Tom Latham has been Mr Reliable and Kane Williamson is so cool that a Kiwi English dictionary might call it cool as Kane instead of cucumber.
There’s Rockstar Rosco or Ross Taylor who was anointed by Martin Crowe as a successor and a few all rounders who have seen the Indians up close while plying their trade in IPL, followed by the battery of fast bowlers who form a very formidable attack.
Indian are no pushovers either, their batting line-up is as formidable as it gets and the return of their tweaking all-rounders Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja lends maturity and balance to the team which was missing in Australia and at home against England.
They are no slouches in the fast bowling department either and can field their own to match the Kiwis’ attack.
The IPL has added number of sub-plots to the saga.
Boult going full guns blazing at his MI captain and his MI bowling buddy Jasprit Bumrah salivating himself to go against the Kiwis, or the tall Kiwi Kyle Jamieson trying to get his RCB captain out or the high number of Kiwi coaches and assistant coaches getting their players’ secrets out to help their nation add to their not-so-envious hardware cabinet.
One might wonder, this should make a 50-50 decision as we go into this. I would say no, this is 60-40 in favour of New Zealand.
There are three reasons which make me see New Zealand as slight favourites.
They just played two Tests in England; the Indians will play five after the WTC which doesn’t help here.
The Black Caps’ attack might be a bit better in the English conditions and third, India are not always the quick starters in a series.
They start slow always and pick up momentum from the second game in a series onwards.
The only issue here is this is a one-game series. One and done. No time to adjust.
Rankings wise, India finished at the top of the table but for once, New Zealand will start as favourites in this game.
In recent times, the Indians have shown only fools will write them off.
The young Indians are battle ready and raring to go. They are no longer the pushovers.
They won’t mind being called the underdogs and would love to prove the pundits wrong.
What is also fascinating is that the ICC has come up with another option that if the game ends in a draw or a tie, then both the teams will be joint winners. Talk about being politically correct.
As a fan of Test cricket, I can’t wait for the battle royale to begin in the land which gets the credit for inventing this beautiful game.
Let’s all hope and pray that the game is a winner.
In these trying times, everyone deserves to enjoy a good game of cricket and there isn’t a better sound than when the willow belts the leather – just ask a drummer or batter.