The two leaders congratulated the newlyweds
The tension that envelops the build-up to every ICC World Cup final in limited overs cricket was missing when India and New Zealand geared up for the first-ever world title decider in the traditional format.
The World Test Championship was conceptualised in 2008, but it finally saw the light of the day 11 years later.
And now, after 61 matches across the globe featuring nine teams, we finally have two teams fighting for the right to lay their hands on the ICC Mace.
The fickle English weather and the greenish wicket at Southampton will make New Zealand feel at home. After all, it’s on wickets like these that their quality attack, led by their greatest fast bowling pair in history, Trent Boult (287 Test wickets at 27.85) and Tim Southee (309 wickets at 28.31), have consistently put opposition batsmen to the sword, winning 15 of their 21 Test matches at home since the start of 2017.
Even England got a taste of the new-found cricket depth of the rugby-mad country when Joe Root’s team lost the second Test recently in Birmingham where New Zealand were missing six key players, including skipper Kane Williamson.
Virat Kohli’s men are aware of the challenge that awaits them at the Ageas Bowl. Notorious for their inauspicious starts in overseas Test campaigns, India will face the Kiwis with only a lop-sided intra-squad practice game under their belt.
While India’s last Test match came in March, New Zealand will go into the WTC finale on the back of their first away series win in England since 1999.
The Ageas Bowl wicket, though, does have a tendency to offer turn from the fourth day, and this is when India would hope to turn the screw.
With the hugely experienced Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in the playing XI, Kohli would be hoping the two spinners would turn his fortunes around and hand him his first ICC trophy as captain.
But for that to happen, India’s batsmen need to bury the ghosts of the past and take the game into the fourth day.
India’s nightmarish Test series last year in New Zealand on similar pitches saw embarrassing batting collapses with only the first Test in Wellington going into the fourth morning.
While India’s formidable seam attack has earned widespread plaudits in recent years, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami are not exactly in the same class as the Boults and Southees when it comes to swing bowling.
Naturally, the pundits would lean towards the Kiwis after a close look at the two teams’ strengths and weaknesses on English conditions where India have lost 11 out of 14 Test matches in the last 10 years.
But it’s a team that scripted one of the greatest Test series triumphs in history when they came back from a disastrous first Test in Adelaide and won the four-match series with a severely-depleted squad against a full-strength Australia early this year.
None of the rookies that played a part in that historic Brisbane triumph will feature in Southampton.
But a certain Rishabh Pant would be lurking at the quaint Ageas Bowl.
The 23-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman has made great strides behind the stumps.
But if he can replicate his Brisbane heroics with his inventive and intrepid shot-making from the pivotal number six position, India might just be able to clip the Kiwi wings in Southampton.
ICC WORLD TEST CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL
INDIA VS NEW ZEALAND
Rose Bowl, Southampton (4,000 restricted capacity)
Match starts at 1:30pm UAE Time
New Zealand 1
Virat Kohli (capt), Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah.
NEW ZEALAND (FROM)
Kane Williamson (capt), Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Devon Conway, Colin de Grandhomme, Matt Henry, Kyle Jamieson, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls, Ajaz Patel, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner, BJ Watling, Will Young.
Winner: $1.6 million
MATCH OFFICIALS (all English)
Umpires: Michael Gough, Richard Illingworth
Third umpire: Richard Kettleborough
Match referee: Chris Broad
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
2020: New Zealand won by seven wickets (Christchurch)
2020: New Zealand won by 10 wickets (Wellington)
2016: India won by 321 runs (Indore)
2016: India won by 178 runs (Kolkata)
2016: India won by 197 runs (Kanpur)
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