The World Test Championship (WTC) cycle that commenced with the Ashes 2019 will finally precipitate with a contest between India and New Zealand at Southampton’s Hampshire Bowl. Nine teams India, Australia, New Zealand, England, South Africa, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and West Indies battled it out for the top two spots to qualify for the finale of the maiden event. New Zealand, the second-ranked team in the latest ICC Test rankings, were the first one to qualify after the Australia tour of South Africa was postponed earlier this year. The WTC Final is scheduled to be played from June 18 to June 22, with June 23 as reserved day. This is the first Test where an extra day has been added as it will be used to culminate the game provided there has been a substantial loss in the net playing time or a considerable loss of overs in the initial five days.
Both squads are filled with world class players. While New Zealand had defeated India when they visited the Kiwi nation last year, both teams will be hard to separate this time out as the final is being played at a neutral venue. Before going into the final let’s figure out the expected battle between the stars of teams:
1. Trent Boult and Virat Kohli
The Indian skipper Virat Kohli will go down in the history books as one of the greatest ever batsman across formats. The consistency with which he gets runs in just unmatchable by any standards. Trent Boult has scalped Virat Kohli 6 times in all formats, with Virat scoring a total of 226 runs against him out of the 353 balls he faced from him. Kohli’s highest strike rate of 228.57 comes against him in T20s . In Tests he has a strike rate of 101 against Boult and falling to his prey on three occasions. Boult, a shrewd in-swinging fast bowler will surely challenge Kohli in English conditions as he had trouble coping with it in the past. Kohli, meanwhile, has not scored a century in any format for more than 18 months. Kohli has scored 877 runs at 43.85 in the World Test Championship till now. WTC final would be the perfect stage to end his century drought. However, it is not going to be an easy task.
2. Jasprit Bumrah and Kane Williamson
If India wants to win the inaugural World Test Championship final, Jasprit Bumrah needs to come great no matter what. Jasprit Bumrah has been in and out of India’s Test side as of late for different reasons. Subsequent to missing the Test series against England on home soil, Bumrah would plan to make a solid rebound in whites as India gear up to confront New Zealand. Kane Williamson has scored a total of 103 runs against Bumrah, getting off guard three times. Bumrah got him out twice when it comes to Tests, with Williamson managing only 33 runs against him. Williamson is yet to whack Bumrah for a six in international cricket. Kiwi skipper Kane Williamson, on the other hand, is the leading run-scorer for New Zealand in the tournament with 817 runs in 14 innings. He has two double tons, three centuries and 2 fifties to his name so far. It will be interesting to see how he will tackle Jasprit Bumrah in the upcoming clash.
3. Ravichandran Ashwin and Tom Latham
India’s star off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin is as of now the second-ranked bowler in ICC Test rankings. He caused serious trouble to the Australian batsman with his bowling abilities prior to doing likewise with the England batting line-up in the home test series, recently. He is the third highest wicket-taker in World Test Championship with 67 wickets. His wicket-taking capacity is a mystery to none. The off-spinner averages a faltering 16.98 for his 48 wickets against New Zealand. He also has 6 five-wicket hauls against the Black Caps which is the joint most for him against any rival. New Zealand’s vice-captain Tom Latham is right now the 12th ranked player in the ICC Test rankings for batsmen. He has been a treat to watch in the of recent years. The last time both met was way back in 2016 Test Series. Latham managed to score 77 runs against him falling prey for a total of four times. Latham claims he is kind of comfortable against spinners as he relies more on sweeps then going down the ground. It would be an interesting battle between the two, as Ashwin has picked a little over half of his overall career wickets against left-handers with an average of 19.55 and he is the first bowler to dismiss left-handers 200 times. It will be great to watch how Latham handles Ashwin in the upcoming WTC final.
4. Rohit Sharma and Tim Southee
India’s star opening batsman Rohit Sharma is the second-highest run-scorer for India and 6th overall in the WTC with 1030 runs. He has slammed four centuries and two half-centuries. The 33-year-old also has a double-ton to his name. He has been India’s main source of runs at the top of the order but playing Southee will not be easy as will take the ball away from Rohit and get the surprise delivery to come back in. If there is swing on offer in England, which is mostly the case, then Southee will become a handful to handle for the Indian opener. . The right-arm bowler has proved his mettle in all the formats of the game and is regarded as one of the best bowlers to have played for the Black Caps. Southee is not someone who can set the speed gun on fire but his ability to extract swing from the pitch and buckets of variations makes him a force to reckon with.
5. Cheteshwar Pujara and Neil Wagner
India’s glue in Test match batting line up has been their No. 3 Cheteshwar Pujara for the last few years. He has been the fulcrum around which the innings have revolved. Pujara plays the patience game very well that allows the others to play their natural game. Cheteshwar Pujara has scored 341 runs in 10 innings this year in Tests with an average of 34, scoring 4 half-tons. He has been very careful facing Wagner so far in his Test career scoring 63 runs in 198 balls he faced. Wagner got him only once so far in his career and last year in 5 Test matches he picked up a total of 18 wickets with best figures of 6/99. The usage of short ball by Wagner has made even the best batters duck for cover and change their batting plans.Wagner has been very successful in employing that tactics of bowling bouncers and it is expected to give a plenty of them to Indian batsmen. Wagner’s plan against Pujara could be watched very keenly through the WTC finale. Will Pujara’s patience make Wagner to alter his plan of going bodyline or the Saurashtra batsman decide to take on the bowler in order to upset the bowler’s plan will be a huge battle to look forward to.
By Paramdeep Rathee
Feature Image by Prakash Parsekar