India and New Zealand will be playing the World Test Championship (WTC) final in England from June 18. Who are the favourites? What will be the deciding factor?
Nick Knight, a former England opener, provides the answers in an exclusive interview to SportsAdda.com.
Are the two finalists, India and New Zealand, the most deserving teams to play the WTC final?
Nick Knight: Absolutely! India and New Zealand have come through as fully deserving sides, having played some tough contests. Obviously, Australia and England were in there till the end. So, four excellent sides, but I think the two teams that came through, in the end, were under pressure and found the goods when needed. It’s going to be a cracking WTC final.
Are you comfortable with the ICC move of declaring joint winners in case of a draw or a washout?
Nick Knight: It is probably the best-case scenario. It will be a bit uncomfortable if that’s the case because you’d want to have a winner. ICC has even made the sixth day available, if there is rain. I’m sure the weather for the next two weeks in the UK is going to be unbelievable. There is no sight of rain anywhere. It’s good news because the grounds will be able to prepare a very good surface, they won’t have the covers on and off, and I’m sure the pitch will be excellent.
It would be just pure bad luck if having a two-week period, leading up to the game itself where England would be playing New Zealand and then the WTC final, and it would rain. I’m sure it won’t happen; we all will keep our fingers crossed. But they have to find a way of coming to a conclusion at some point, and I’m pretty happy with the outcome. With the extra day, that’s really sensible.
So, you seem to suggest New Zealand have a lot to gain from the two Tests against England?
Nick Knight: I think New Zealand will see it very much as an advantage, and it is a slight advantage. But the squad India have got, I see that as an advantage. I don’t think New Zealand’s Tests against England will tip the balance in the game.
New Zealand have always been a strong force in ICC events while Virat Kohli is yet to win an ICC event? Do you think Virat will be under pressure to win it?
Nick Knight: I think Virat Kohli and any Indian captain will be under pressure but do I think it will affect how the Test match will go? No, I don’t. It is not a tournament where there are 10 or 15 games; it is a one-off match. I think it is a type of moment that a side under the leadership of Kohli -- and Kohli himself -- will just love and raise the bar. With so much at stake and this sort of occasion, if I had someone on that Indian side who will score a hundred, it’ll be Virat Kohli. I think India will raise the bar on that occasion, and they will have to because New Zealand are an outstanding side, and they will have two Test matches under their belt.
Who are the favourites in the WTC final and why?
Nick Knight: Well, I can only give you my favourites, and it is a callous call. I’m going with India. What swayed me is the way India played away from home in the recent series with Australia. I was hugely impressed for several reasons. First, India can call upon so many different resources. Second, to win a series where the conditions are very different from what you are used to at home, and that too twice in a row, was unbelievable. So, coming over to England for a one-off Test match, India will settle pretty quickly. My only concern with India is the swinging ball, and I think (Trent) Boult is not playing in the England series, but he will be available for the WTC final. I think if Boult and (Tim) Southee get it together, and that they will have two Test matches under their belt before the final, it just gives them something.
What is your prediction for the WTC final?
Nick Knight: I think it will go the distance. But the conditions are a bit unknown. We had a bit of rain in the lead-up to one of the Test matches last year, and the wicket was a bit slow and low. Then we had some nice weather later on, and the ball went through and turned. But, as I said earlier, the weather is good and set fair for a couple of weeks, so the preparation period of the pitch will be excellent.
I think it will be a terrific pitch. It will mainly be for the batsmen, but some balls go through there and turn. Moeen Ali had bowled well against India on that ground on a couple of occasions. The ball will turn, and it brings India in as well. I think Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin will do well. So, conditions may just suit India. But we don’t know the weather patterns in the direct lead-up to the game, so my prediction is that it will go five days and India will beat New Zealand in the end.
Besides the weather, who will be the one to keep an eye out for?
Nick Knight: Well, the main concern for India will be Boult-Southee and the swing. I have India as favourites, but I think they will get into trouble if they don’t play the swinging ball well, and there is no one better than Boult and Southee. If they do play the two matches against England, then I think Boult and Southee with the new Duke’s ball will have their say. New Zealand’s new-ball bowlers could cause India’s top order some problems. That’s going to be key. New Zealand have plenty of options like Matt Henry or Neil Wagner with the pace. They can bowl short and put India on the backfoot, and Wagner is excellent at doing that.
But I have got India as favourites because they have got too much. We are talking small margins here, and there’s so much to look forward to because we have Kane Williamson. He is arguably one of the best batsmen in the world going against India’s bowling options like Jasprit Bumrah and others, with the Duke’s ball. Wow, it doesn’t get much better than that!
Featured photo: AFP / SENA VIDANAGAMA