The inaugural edition of the World Test Championship (WTC) final will get underway on June 18 in Southampton as the world’s top teams India and New Zealand lock horns in a battle for Test supremacy.

The premier Test championship tournament was launched by the International Cricket Council (ICC) in August 2019. Although the idea was initiated in 2013, the ICC members only agreed with the plan in 2019. 

Route to the finals

At the start of 2021, Australia, England, India and New Zealand were in contention to book their spots in the WTC final after Australia’s hopes were almost dashed following their 2-1 defeat against India earlier in the year. 

But despite India's heroics Down Under, their spot in the WTC final was not confirmed. Interestingly, Australia’s loss proved to be a boon for New Zealand, who sealed their place after comfortably beating West Indies (2-0) and Pakistan (2-0) at home. 

It was only after beating England (3-1) at home in February-March this year did Virat Kohli’s men join the Kiwis in the WTC final. In the process, India also eliminated England from the race. Currently, India are ranked No.1 in the ICC Test rankings, followed by New Zealand. 

Now that the two best teams in the longest version of the game have made the final, we can expect quality red-ball cricket at the Rose Bowl next week. 

Rose Bowl history

This stadium has hosted only six Test matches till now, out of which three were played in the summer of 2020, when Pakistan and West Indies were quarantined in Southampton. India too have played at this venue before, but ended up on the losing side on both occasions (2014 and 2018). Meanwhile, New Zealand have never played a Test at the Rose Bowl. 

Southampton pitch for WTC final

Only twice have teams scored in excess of 500 at Southampton. We have also seen three drawn games at this venue. Besides the West Indies, no other visiting team has ever won a match at the Rose Bowl. 

Southampton weather for WTC final

Expect bright and sunny conditions for the entire duration of the WTC final in Southampton.

India vs New Zealand - Who has the edge

New Zealand are currently playing their second and final Test of the series against England in Edgbaston after Kiwi pacer, Tim Southee led the bowling attack by picking six wickets in the first innings of the first Test. Unfortunately, due to a washout on the third day, New Zealand had limited time to bowl out the hosts, forcing them to settle for a draw in the first Test. With Trent Boult already making a statement in the ongoing Edgbaston Test, the New Zealand pace attack appears formidable

The Kiwis will also be thrilled with the emergence of Devon Conway at the top of the order after he scored a double ton in his maiden Test at Lord’s. Perhaps the only concern for New Zealand will be captain Kane Williamson’s troublesome elbow, which has sidelined him from the Birmingham Test

New Zealand have also played it smart by resting Southee and Kyle Jamieson for the Edgbaston Test, in order to help them stay fresh ahead of the WTC final. Regular wicket-keeper BJ Watling too has been monitored carefully ahead of the big game against India

On the other hand, India’s Test specialist only reached Southampton last week and after a strict quarantine, recently began their practice sessions. The Indian team engaged in an intra-squad game ahead of the all-important final

Although India have toured well in the recent past and won Test series’ across conditions, winning the WTC final will present a different challenge. Skipper Virat Kohli spoke about how both India and New Zealand will start on an even note at Southampton. He even reasoned how India adapted to foreign conditions in the past, despite lack of practice games and still succeeded. 

While Kohli’s logic might be vindicated for a series of three or five Tests, the one-off WTC final might not give India enough time to acclimatise to the conditions in Southampton. Much will also depend on how Kohli performs with the bat. After failing in his maiden tour to England in 2014, the maestro hit back on the 2018 tour by scoring 593 runs. 

On the bowling front, all of India’s bowlers likely to play in the WTC final have played a Test match at Southampton. Pace spearhead Mohammad Shami is the only bowler in the current line-up to play two Tests at the Rose Bowl. 

While the World Test Championship product is still at a nascent stage and has received mixed reactions from former and current players, the ICC has indicated on several occasions that they will continue to experiment with the format. Be that as it may, the match up between India and New Zealand has all the ingredients to deliver a memorable championship match in Southampton.

Featured Image: AFP/ Peter Parks