A glorious journey for India that started tiptoeing in West Indies has finally travelled a proverbial mile and is all set to culminate in the Rose Bowl, Southampton, when the two best teams in Test cricket, India and New Zealand collide with each other in the finale of the World Test Championship, starting on 18th June 2021.
The last time, India collided with New Zealand, the outcome was overwhelmingly in favour of the Kiwis and the Indians could hardly come up with resolve against the formidable bowling of the Black Caps. Now as the party arrives in England, India will need to be firm with their willow in hand. The surface in Rose Bowl isn’t particularly conducive to the batters.
The Indian middle-order hasn’t really seen reliability from the ones responsible to conjure it. The three pillars of the Indian middle-order, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara have struggled to maintain consistency. Kohli would have a more fretful approach considering the fact that of late, he has failed to convert the starts into big knocks.
With all said and done, India will have to put up a herculean showdown if they are to challenge for the championship against a bowling line-up that is teeming with swing which becomes even more menacing when the ball kisses deck in Southampton.
In this story, we will try and pick the best eleven that India can field against the mighty Black Caps when they collide in the grand finale of this enduring fray.
Shubman Gill and Rohit Sharma
Gill has very contrasting statistics to file a strong case for himself in the Indian side that will be contending for the championship. Despite a fiasco in the recently concluded India England bilateral series and a woeful show in the current edition of IPL, his numbers in Australia were pretty fine enough that would inspire the selectors to onboard him. He is an exquisite stroke player and the confidence that he exudes with those classic drives and pulls are exactly why he is needed to broker with the New Zealand bowlers. The ball will be swinging a good deal in Southampton and one will need to play the anchor in the middle unless the scoreboard gets going. Shubman Gill’s impressive figures in Australia were very enviable considering the fact that out of the six innings he played, it was just one knock where he failed to score. His confident 91 at Brisbane paved the path for India to script a remarkable victory spearheaded by Rishabh Pant. However, there is definitely something that he will need to work upon and that is his rashness after he gets those blinding starts. He gets way too complacent and sacrifices himself to poor shots. If he can get a hang of things and be patient when it needs him to be, Gill can be an apex predator in the finale.
Rohit Sharma is undoubtedly India’s best opener in all formats of the sport at the moment. He started his Test career with a bang but with the vehement shifts in the pecking order that he had to deal with, he lost his momentum in the middle. After repeated failure from Shikhar Dhawan and India’s hard battle to decide that who can be an apt player in the opening slot, they turned their attention towards India’s most dominant white-ball cricketer, Rohit Sharma. He started with a fluent half-century at Sydney that was followed by a decent 44. He struck gold in Chennai where the ball was turning more than a whirlwind and managed to smack an incredible 161, crafting the path of India’s incredible victory. Ideally, he is an excellent player of spin that will be a spanner in the plans of Mitchell Santner. However, it will be imperative for him to also deal with the movement from Tim Southee and Trent Boult on a wicket that can be a paradise for bowlers early in the game.
Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja
As the performances in Australia go, India will have to axe a few imperative names in order to field their first-string players. KL Rahul and Washington Sundar may very well be the most prominent ones to be a part of the bench. However, the hero of Sydney, Hanuma Vihari, may also have to contend himself with a spot on the bench, given the availability of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, who will be tipped with a responsibility to bat a bit deeper than he usually does.
Pujara has been a man of immense depth and is deemed as immunity against landslide in foreign lands. His extraordinary defensive technique keeps him bolt upright against the menacing movement of the ball. He is also unfazed by the heat generated when the express bowlers target his timbre or his body. However, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins opened up a hole in his armour as he was seen ailing against those swinging deliveries on the off-stump, especially the ones bowled full. Tim Southee and Trent Boult are extremely consistent performers and they will probe this man with the same ball persistently unless he commits wrongly to it. That is where he will have to hone himself. It is very important that he doesn’t lose his patience and converges his entire attention in being calm and opening the full face of the blade in order to negotiate with those swiveling scorchers in a much better way.
Virat Kohli will be raring to get himself set in the first place. One of the primary reasons that I am saying this is because of the brashness that has cost him his wicket multiple times in the last few games. Another woe that he has been facing is the inability to convert the starts into big knocks. It has been a couple of years since he got his last century and it came against an ailing Bangladesh. Despite getting starts against Australia and England, his innings fizzled away in the middle, thereby snuffing out the opportunity for India to garner a 500 or a 600 plus total. He is one of the most flexible sportsmen in our country with some smooth turnstile wrists that acts better than a machine in mastering those classic drives. He will have to be a lot more persistent and will have to keep his calm if India is to challenge the throne.
Rahane garnered a boatload of adulation when he clobbered that astonishing 112 against Australia in Melbourne, leading India’s fightback but was shortly at the receiving end of criticism after failing to hold on to his consistency. Despite getting decent starts against Australia, he wasn’t dogged enough to carry on fighting and that saw him taking the long walk to the pavilion, much quicker than he anticipated. He played a gem of a role against England in the second Test, but it wasn’t something exceptional that we expect from the diminutive man who is deemed as Test batting Titan. However, it is important for India to side with experience more than experiments as New Zealand has a varying bowling unit and can actually inflict a lot of damage even given an iota of leeway. Rahane is known for his patience and his ability to hang in the middle with a few classic strokes of his own. He doesn’t get into the attacking mode early and waits for the loose deliveries to be bowled. This is what India will expect from their vice-captain when the final kicks off.
Rishabh Pant has undoubtedly been the best batsman in Indian colours in recent times. Not only because he played a few beautiful knocks, but he carved them under immense pressure and the significant impact that he has created is what caught the attention of the onlookers. He has evolved into a much more aggressive wicket-keeping batsman and has worked rigorously on the technique that has seen him emerge as a bigger menace to his counterparts than his comrades. The last seven Test matches that he has played spanning from the Australian tour, he has carved a blistering 97 at Sydney, a match-winning unbeaten 89 at Brisbane, a rollicking 91 against England in Chennai, an unbeaten 58 in the second Test against England at the same venue and a crushing ton against England in the final Test at Ahmadabad. These figures are overwhelmingly in favour of the hard-hitting southpaw being the most obvious pick for India in the WTC final.
Another obvious pick in the Indian side will be Ravindra Jadeja, who is considered the second-best all-rounder in the world at the moment after Ben Stokes. With every passing second, he has proved himself to be indispensable and absolutely invaluable to the Indian side. Ranging from some exceptional bowling to some aggressive batting, Jadeja also brings on a blend of ecstatic fielding to the plate. He is ruthless, belligerent and always hungry for more. Despite missing out on the much-important Australia series, he left a significant impact on the first two Test matches. His knack for breaking important partnerships in the middle gives an additional option to Virat Kohli to allow an extra bowler or a batsman. That is exactly why Ravindra Jadeja is a priceless gem to India.
Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammad Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma
It goes without saying that Ashwin is undoubtedly India’s primary off-spinner and he has been a reckoning force in the Indian tail. Though his batting has dipped considerably from what it used to be, yet those small cameos, in the end, come in extremely handy for the Indian batters trying to drag the scoreline in their favour. His unbeaten 39 against Australia was a treat to watch that cemented his place in the Indian Test team considering the fact that he is still one of the most enduring bowling all-rounders of all time. Against England, he came up with scintillating figures to establish himself as the emperor of off-spin in the Indian echelons. His century against the Englishmen was another reason why he will be the first pick over Washington Sundar who had a great outing Down Under.
As Mohammad Shami will be available for selection, India will go for him sans a second thought. He is a master swinger of the ball and as soon as the cherry hits the deck, Shami will be anticipating some enthralling movement of the same. His exploits against Australia weren’t particularly impressive but every single game that he has been a part of in the ongoing IPL, he has validated his worth. Southampton’s surface is always conducive to the bowlers who are able to generate swing. This is exactly where Shami rises to the occasion to trouble New Zealand.
Jasprit Bumrah is India’s leading fast bowler at the moment and is capable of belting out those toe-crushing yorkers and grille-rattling bouncers to leave the batsmen dazed and confused. Though he hasn’t relished a huge turnout from the fixtures that he was a part of, if he gets going, life can be a living hell for the New Zealand batters once they enter the arcade for the glorious pursuit of the Test crown.
If there was one spell that defined the entire career of Ishant Sharma, it was none other than the infamous joust of supremacy against Punter. As the ball danced to and fro, leaving Ponting wondering about what exactly is unfolding ahead of him, Ishant made merry with some vicious swing. One needs to remember that New Zealand has one of the members of the all-impressive batting trio, Kane Williamson. It is not easy to ball to him unless you are able to emanate some lethal movement. You will need a lot more precision and a calm head to get under the skin of one of the coolest cricketers of all time. That is why Ishant Sharma is much needed in the ranks of Indian bowling. Shami has swing and so does Ishant. Only the latter is capable of hammering those nasty ones at a brutal speed of 145 clicks that can hit the armour of Kane persistently to open a few chinks for the other bowlers to get a bite at him.