India will take on New Zealand in the final of the World Test Championship at The Rose Bowl in Southampton from June 18.
While New Zealand are currently playing England in a two-Test series at Lord’s, London and Edgbaston, Birmingham, Virat Kohli’s men are confined to practice sessions inside their bio-bubble at the team hotel inside the Southampton stadium complex.
We undertake a SWOT analysis of the two WTC finalists:
Undoubtedly the pace bowling, more so for New Zealand as they demonstrated in the Lord’s Test against England. Even in the absence of Trent Boult, the New Zealand seam attack of Tim Southee, Kyle Jamieson, Neil Wagner and Colin de Grandhomme generated the most swing by any visiting side in England since 2006.
India are not too far behind with the likes of Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah having given a good account of themselves on the previous England tour in 2018. Kohli also has strong back-up options in Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur.
India certainly have the edge in the spin department, with the batting abilities of R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel and Washington Sundar an added advantage. Depending on the weather, Southampton can aid spin; India had succumbed to Moeen Ali’s off-spin and lost the Test series there in 2018.
Barring Kohli, who had a memorable tour with nearly 600 runs, India’s batting never came close to dominating in 2018 in England. And in their previous outing against New Zealand in 2020, India managed 165, 191, 242 and 124 in the two Tests in Wellington and Christchurch.
They will also likely have a fresh opening pair with no experience of facing the new Dukes ball in English conditions. KL Rahul has, but he is no longer the preferred opener, having fallen behind Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal and Shubman Gill.
Meanwhile, injuries to skipper Kane Williamson and left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner will leave New Zealand a bit worried. Williamson is sitting out the Edgbaston Test with elbow trouble but should be back for the WTC final. New Zealand are already no match for India on the spin front, and they will hope Santner’s finger injury heals in time for Southampton.
One key factor could be the absence of Hardik Pandya, who provided all-round balance to the side on the 2018 England tour. New Zealand have de Grandhomme to perform that role.
New Zealand have three left-handers in the top five in Tom Latham, Devon Conway and Henry Nicholls. Ashwin had nailed the left-handed England opener Alastair Cook cheaply both times in the tour opener in Edgbaston in 2018. Kohli may look at using the off-spinner early to try and surprise the Kiwi line-up.
The Kiwis will surely look to get rid of the less experienced Indian openers early so that they can expose the veteran middle order to the new ball.
India have all right-handers until Rishabh Pant comes in. They will have to be extra careful against the left-arm angle of Boult and Wagner.
In case India decide to play two spinners, it will pose a completely different challenge for New Zealand compared to what they will have faced against England.
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Featured photo: AFP / Peter Parks