A new chapter is poised to begin in the game of cricket, on Friday, 18 June 2021. For years, there have been discussions on how to structure a ‘World Cup’ of Test cricket, and it is great to see all those plans fructifying in the form of the first-ever World Test Championship final. India will take on New Zealand in the summit clash at Southampton. Whether a solitary Test can determine which is the better side, is a topic for another discussion, some other day. Surely, the format of the Test Championship will be re-examined and re-jigged in the years to come, just as the formats of the limited-overs World Cup have been changed multiple times. For now, it is wonderful that a start has been made.
On paper, India seem the stronger side. The players excelled in Australia in the 2020-21 season and followed that with a comprehensive series win over England at home. The team looks balanced and it is most importantly high on confidence. However, New Zealand cannot be taken lightly. The Kiwis have just concluded a Test series in England, which they won. Kane Williamson, their captain, who had missed the last Test against England, is back. They have an excellent bowling outfit as well.
Considering Virat Kohli’s approach to the game, I expect India to play five specialist bowlers, all of whom will go for the kill. Another advantage of the five-bowler approach is that it gives you backup, in case of injury. The five-bowler strategy worked well in Australia. The management has decided to go with three pacemen and two spinners. With rain predicted and the curator having talked about ‘bounce and carry’ in the pitch, I suspect the management will be tempted to play four quicks. The final call will be taken as close to the start as possible.
The Indian team is reaping the rewards of its consistency for the past few seasons. A Test series against England is around the corner, and the players will remember their defeat on their previous tour of the country in 2018. They are of course a lot more evolved and experienced than what they were back then, and England will know that very well. A victory in the WTC final will give the Indian team a massive psychological boost prior to that Test series, apart from the ICC Test Championship Mace, of course. It will be appropriate if India win the Mace in the year that marks the golden jubilee of the victories in the West Indies and England under the captaincy of Ajit Wadekar, with which Indian cricket ‘came of age.’
Virat will lead from the front, no doubt, but it is also important to remember the contribution of Ajinkya Rahane, his deputy, to the team’s march into the WTC final. Simply put, India would not have qualified for the WTC final, had Ajinkya not batted and led in Australia the way he did.
(The writer is a former Indian cricketer and also the founder & Director at IISM, the leading sports management institute in Mumbai.