Clash of the titans to crown World Test Champions: Everything you need to know

World Test Championship

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After two years of enthralling cricket, the inaugural ICC World Test Championship Final is upon us and fittingly it pits the two top teams on the ICC Test rankings against one another.

OVERVIEW:

India vs New Zealand at Southampton ICC World Test Championship Final 10:30am local, 3pm IST, 9:30pm NZST

After two years of enthralling cricket, the inaugural ICC World Test Championship Final is upon and fittingly it pits the two top teams on the ICC Test rankings against one another.

New Zealand, recently minted the No.1 Test team in the world on the rankings, take on an Indian side that has been close to a fixture there for the past five years.

In one match we are likely to see five of the top batters on the men’s rankings, three of top 10 bowlers and up to four of the top 10 all-rounders.

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You would be hard-pressed to argue there were two more fitting sides to play in this historic match at Southampton’s Hampshire bowl.

Before the first ball is delivered on Friday at 10:30am local, find out everything you need to know.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

India qualified for the World Test Championship Final after finishing first on the standings but their spot in the decider was not secured until their very last match against England.

In terms of points accrued, India led the way for most of the tournament, but their hopes of reaching the final were thrown off-kilter when the percentage-of-points available method was brought into play as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Indians began their march in style, winning seven Tests on the trot as they dealt out defeats to the West Indies, South Africa and Bangladesh. Their campaign hit a serious hurdle against eventual Final opponents New Zealand as they suffered back to back defeats.

In Australia, things were looking grim after a crushing loss at Adelaide Oval, but eventually, a 2-1 win restored their hopes. There was another setback when they tasted defeat in the opening Test against England, but they’d rally to win that series 3-1 and ultimately take the top spot on the WTC standings.

New Zealand started their WTC campaign on the backfoot, suffering defeat against Sri Lanka in their first Test of the tournament but went on to draw the series 1-1. A 3-0 loss to Australia in 2019-20 badly hurt their ambitions before a 2-0 victory over India lifted spirits.

Read: Key battles to watch out in WTC Final

They were further emboldened when the decision was made to decide standings on percentage rather than points, and a run of four straight wins at home was enough to lift them to second.

Along the way, they also won two of their four Tests – home and away – against England in series that had no bearing on the WTC.

WHAT’S UP FOR GRABS

The ICC Test Championship Mace, which has been traditionally held by the No.1 team in Test cricket will go to the winner of this week’s final.

The winner will also be awarded a purse of $1.6 million, with the runner-up collecting $800,000. In the result of a draw, the prize money for first and second will be split between the two sides and the Mace shared.

SQUADS

India

Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammad Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Siraj, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha, Umesh Yadav.

While much of India’s XI picks itself, there are still a few serious headaches for captain Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri to consider.

Five of the top seven – Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Rishabh Pant – look certainties to play, while it would be a shock if Shubman Gill was not retained at the top of the order. From there, things get more complicated.

In the attack, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami lead the race to be the three seamers in the attack, ahead of Mohammad Siraj and Umesh Yadav.

Whether both Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin play or just one will ultimately depend on if India prefer the assuredly of a specialist batsman in Hanuma Vihari or the versatility of two fine spin-bowling all-rounders in a five-man attack.

New Zealand

Kane Williamson (c), Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Devon Conway, Colin de Grandhomme, Matt Henry, Kyle Jamieson, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls, Ajaz Patel, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner, BJ Watling, Will Young

New Zealand have selection headaches of their own after building serious depth.

After missing the second Test against England – a match his Black Caps won – captain Williamson is set to return from an elbow injury at No.3 behind a likely pair of Tom Latham and Devon Conway, who will be making his WTC debut. Veteran Ross Taylor and the reliable Henry Nicholls can be expected to round out the top five.

Having missed the second Test against England with a back complaint, wicket-keeper BJ Watling looks set to return to the XI at either No.6 or 7.

The Black Caps could play seam-bowling all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme at No.6 with the keeper a spot down. That would leave them having to pick between going for an all-out pace attack or leaving out two of Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner, Kyle Jamieson, Matt Henry to fit spinner Ajaz Patel.

Alternatively, they could opt to push Jamieson up to seven, allowing them to play spinner Patel alongside three of Southee, Boult, Wagner and Henry.

It’s worth remembering in all this that Will Young scored 82 in the last Test, where Henry was Player of the Match for his six wickets.

REMEMBER THE LAST TIME

The last time these two teams met, New Zealand won 2-0 at home. The last time they met at an ICC event, the Black Caps knocked India out in the semi-finals of the 2019 Cricket World Cup. In fact, the last time India beat New Zealand at a men’s ICC event was in the 2003 Cricket World Cup.

Conversely, New Zealand are looking to win their first men’s ICC final since the 2000 ICC KnockOut, having finished runner up at the 2019 and 2015 Cricket World Cup and 2009 Champions Trophy.

Suffice to say, both teams are looking to put to bed some bad omens.

At the end of the day, these are two quality teams that have each only lost one series in the WTC cycle and the match will be decided across the five days’ play rather than being determined by any history.

LOOK OUT FOR

Where else to look but the two star captains – Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson. Fourth and second on the ICC Test battings respectively, Kohli and Williamson are firmly cemented among the greatest batters of their generations.

Williamson goes into the match looking to shake off an elbow injury and a quiet start to his tour of England but placed firmly as the man India will be most desperate to keep quiet. His own surge in form fuelled the Black Caps’ charge to the final, scoring 639 runs at 159.75 across three Tests in 2020/21, with two double centuries and a ton.

Kohli heads into the match looking to notch his first century in the format since 2019 and leave an indelible mark on. While it has been a somewhat lean run for the Indian captain, he has come up with several key performances for the team in that time.

In Australia, his half-century at Adelaide Oval looked set to shape the match until an unfortunate run out, while against England his 62 at Chennai was crucial to turning the series around. He averaged 59.3 and scored two centuries on his last Test tour of England and will be hoping that bodes well going into the final.

As captains, both Williamson and Kohli are proponents of attacking, positive cricket and we can expect both to push for victory rather than play for a draw.

WHERE TO WATCH

Head here for a comprehensive wrap up where to watch it in your home country.

The TV broadcast plans are headlined by Star Sports, providing the Indian fans options between five languages: Hindi, English, Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada. The fans from India will be able to digitally stream the match on Disney+ Hotstar. The final in Nepal, Maldives, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka will also be broadcasted by Star Sports.

In other countries in Asia: Gazi TV in Bangladesh, RTA Sport in Afghanistan, and Etisalat – CricLife in UAE will broadcast the match live on TV.

The ICC has also partnered up Sky Sports in New Zealand, Fox Sports in Australia, Supersport in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Sky Sports in the UK for live telecast. Fans in the US and Canada have an array of options, via Hotstar and Willow TV with ESPN+ exclusively for the US while Flow Sports will broadcast in the Caribbean.

Where the ICC does not have a broadcast partner for this event, the match will be streamed live on the new ICC.tv platform. Fans can register to watch the match for free on the website www.icc.tv or download the app on the App Store and Google Play store.

KEY STATS

New Zealand top WTC run-scorers

Kane Williamson – 817 run at 58.35 Tom Latham – 680 at 40 Henry Nicholls – 586 at 41.78

Ind top WTC run-scorers

Ajinkya Rahane – 1095 at 43.80 Rohit Sharma – 1030 at 64.37 Virat Kohli – 877 at 43.85

NZ top WTC wicket-takers

Tim Southee – 51 wickets at 20.66 Kyle Jamieson – 36 at 13.27 Trent Boult – 34 at 29.29

Ind top WTC wicket-takers

Ravichandran Ashwin – 67 wickets at 20.88 Ishant Sharma – 36 at 17.33 Mohammed Shami – 36 at 19.77

NZ form across last five Tests (most recent first) WDWWW

Ind form across last five Tests WWWLW