Every sportsperson always strives to be the best in their business. To judge their supremacy over others, we have mega events like Olympics and World Cups. The motto of Olympics- Citius, Altius, Fortius i.e. faster, higher, stronger- signifies this aspect of the sports. For the limited over formats of Cricket, we have had such mega events to judge the best cricket team in the world in that format. The Oneday Internationals started in 1971 and soon in 1975 we had the first ODI World Cup. Similarly for T20Is, which was first played in 2005, ICC took only 2 years to come up with a World Cup.
However the truest form of the game- the Test Cricket- even after 140 years of its existence, did not have any such multinational contest until ICC approved the idea of World Test Championship in 2010. After being cancelled in 2013 and 2017, the inaugural WTC finally started on August 1st, 2019 with first Test of 2019 Ashes series.
Each team was supposed to play six of the other eight teams with 3 home and 3 away series. Each series was contested for 120 points. The top two teams at the end of league stage would play the final to prove their supremacy. The Covid-19 pandemic, however, did not allow the Championship to go as planned and mid way it was decided that the contenders for the final would be decided on the points earned as percentage of points contested. India (72.2%) and New Zealand (70%) emerged as the top two contenders for the trophy at the end of league stage.
India’s road to the final.
India started off quite well with 100% record from the first three series. West Indies were defeated 2-0 comfortably with a big margin of 318 and 257 runs. In the next five home matches, 3 against South Africa and 2 against Bangladesh, India were again quite dominant. They won four of these by margin of an innings and few runs. The first hiccup came on the away tour of New Zealand where India lost both the matches comprehensibly. Indian batsmen never came to the fore and the team was met with an unknown entity by the name of Kyle Jamieson. An all rounder who hurt India both with the bat, coming down the order, and with the ball, complementing Southee & Boult.
The pandemic-hit rule of WTC meant that India needed to win an away series against Australia and a home series against England, both teams being major contenders for the top spot. In a show of character, India’s win over Australia was nothing short of miracle. Coming from a humiliating defeat, the second fiddle Indian team out performed the Aussies and won the series 2-1.
England, who had come from a 2-0 win against Sri Lanka, were supposed to pose another threat to India’s aspirations for the final, especially after winning the first test of the series. But the turning tracks ensured that India would sail into the final of WTC with 3-1 win over England.
New Zealand’s road to the final
New Zealand did not have the best of starts in the World Test Championship. They drew the away Sri Lankan series 1-1 and in another away series lost comprehensively to Australia. The margins of defeats were 296, 247 and 279 runs respectively. The reprieve came with three successive home series in which they had 100% record. First they crushed India 2-0 in a series that saw the emergence of young Kyle Jamieson. Thereafter in the 2-0 win against West Indies, New Zealand had to bat only once in both the Tests. Against a Pakistan side without Babar Azam, they again won both the Tests, thanks to the red hot form of Kane Williamson who scored two centuries.
Australia had the chance to dethrone New Zealand from second position but they lost 4 crucial points for slow over rate in Melbourne Test against India and their South Africa tour got cancelled due to coronavirus disease.
Team India’s prospect
Playing XI: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Md Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jaspreet Bumrah.
Rohit would like to repeat his last ICC tournament performance held in the same place, although with a ball of different colour. He had hit 5 centuries in the ODI CWC. With his performance in Australia, Gill has shown he has the temperament for the longest format. The middle order has the experienced trio of Pujara, Kohli and Rahane, who would hold the key to India’s win. Their resistance of New Zealand pacers’ swing could well be the deciding factor of the game. Pant has proved his mettle with the bat, especially with two brilliant scores batting the 4th innings. India would expect a better glove work from him considering the famous wobble of English conditions.
India’s bowling attack is second to none with proper mix of pace and spin. Ashwin has shown that he has evolved to be a better spinner on away pitches while he will get an able support from Jadeja from the other end. The pace battery, led by experienced Ishant Sharma, has the accuracy of Shami and lethality of Bumrah.
New Zealand’s prospect
Probable Playing XI : Devon Conway, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling, Santner/Ajaz, Kyle Jamieson, Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner
Devon Conway has been the find of the season for New Zealand. He got a double hundred in his debut Test and appears to be ready for the international stage. The experienced lot of Latham, Williamson, Taylor and Nicholls form the core of New Zealand batting. BJ Watling will play his last match before retirement and would love to end it on high note. It would be interesting to see if New Zealand opts for all round ability of Santner or de Grandhomme or they go with the expertise of Ajaz Patel in the spin department. Jamieson’s batting prowess provides the cushion to go with 5 bowlers. He will be the perfect partner of swing kings Southee-Boult and aggressive Wagner.
The Battle Royale
If the Rain God permits, we have a cracker of a game to witness with two teams whose consistent performances in last two years have brought them to the last stage. It is good that we have a reserved day to compensate for the overs lost due to bad weather. Both the captains are in search of their maiden ICC trophy. New Zealand have slight upper hand in terms of experience of English conditions having played the two Tests against England just a few days back. However, if the pitch offers even a slight assistance to the spinners, it would favour the Indians as they have the class of Jadeja and Ashwin. The success of the game will also decide the future of World Test Championship but for now let’s hope we get to see the top notch cricket worthy of a grand finale.