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Why New Zealand shouldn’t play spinner Ajaz Patel in the WTC final

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New Zealand recently named spinner Ajaz Patel in their 15-man squad to take on India in the World Test Championship (WTC) final at Southampton. After his impressive four-wicket haul in the recently concluded second Test against England at Edgbaston, 32-year-old Ajaz is likely to take the field as the only spinner for New Zealand at Southampton. 

That said, going by the history, match-up and conditions on offer at the Rose Bowl, the New Zealand cricket team will be better off playing without any spinner, let alone Ajaz Patel. Here’s why the left-arm spinner needs to be omitted for the one-off Test against the Indian cricket team.

Conditions not conducive for spin bowling 

With overcast conditions and rain predicted for the entire course of the Test match, chances of a spinner taking wickets will be limited. Moreover, the seamer-friendly conditions will also encourage captain Kane Williamson to employ his seamers for extended periods. Furthermore, history suggests that spinners haven’t succeeded at the Rose Bowl, barring Moeen Ali’s 17-wicket haul against India in the two Tests in 2014 and 2018. It is also not to be forgotten that India briefly treated Moeen Ali as Muttiah Muralitharan thanks to their listless and reckless batting. Aside from off-spinner Ali’s exploits, the spinners have only taken 24 wickets in six matches at Southampton. Going by the history and weather forecast, Ajaz Patel is likely to remain ineffective in the WTC final

Awesome foursome pace attack 

New Zealand are fortunate to have four quality seamers firing in tandem. Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner and Kyle Jamieson appear to be in their best physical shape ahead of the all-important game. Moreover, these pacers have been instrumental in helping New Zealand get to the very top of the ICC Test rankings. While one may argue on their limited exposure in overseas conditions in the last couple of years, their recent heroics against England was enough to justify their skills. 

In the first Test at Lord’s, it was the pair of Southee and Jamieson that dented England. Not ones to be left behind, Boult and Wagner's performance with the ball helped the Kiwis beat the hosts England at Edgbaston. Besides their current form, the aforementioned pacers also lend variety to the Kiwi pace attack. While Southee and Boult can nail batsmen with their seam and swing, lanky Jamieson will cause problems with his disconcerting bounce. As far as bowler longer and probing spells, there are not many better than Wanger. But perhaps, more importantly, it is the vulnerability of the Indian batting against quality pace bowling that should encourage New Zealand to field their leading bowlers at the Rose Bowl. 

Avoid redundancy 

A spinner’s role in the side is to pick wickets and not hold one end up, at least in Test cricket. Given the conditions and India’s fluency in tackling spinners as compared to England, it is tough to see Ajaz Patel picking wickets in the WTC final, let alone running through the Indian batting. Moreover, if the Kiwis include Ajaz Patel in their playing XI, then they would be forced to sacrifice on one of their form pacers. With rough weather predicted, frequent stoppages in play is likely. Therefore, the ball is expected to retain its shine, which will only encourage Kane Williamson to stick to his seamers. Playing Ajaz Patel as a holding spinner, only to give pacers respite will not drive the game forward, but might give India an opening to score quick runs.

Written by: Vivek Krishnan

Featured photo: AFP / Paul Ellis

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