By Ashis Ray
Ageas Bowl (Southampton), June 18 (IANS) The chances of the World Test Championship (WTC) final between India and New Zealand — dubbed by the ICC as ‘The Ultimate Test’ — spilling over into a sixth day’s play hovered on the horizon, after incessant rain comprehensively put paid to the opening day’s proceedings here on Friday.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) has allocated an extra day in reserve as precaution for the one-off decider.
India’s fielding coach R. Sridhar in an official media interaction described the foresight as “prudent and wise”.
Asked if India will consider changes to the playing XI they announced on Thursday, he replied: “The XI that has been announced takes the pitch and conditions out of the equation.”
In effect, he emphasised that what has been named is an all-weather team, which will not be altered because of the deluge that has struck the venue of the match.
New Zealand, however, kept their options open. Their opener Tom Latham told the media: “We haven’t decided on the final XI yet.”
Besides, he distinctly hinted at a sixth day being needed after the complete washout of the opening day’s play.
“With the extra day we’ve got up our sleeves, we can still go all the way,” he said.
Only a few hundred spectators — overwhelmingly of Indian origin — braved the foul weather on Friday. Going by the overnight forecast, there was little prospect of play. The outfield, notwithstanding the modern drainage system underneath, was too soggy for it to recover, even if the downpour had stopped, which didn’t happen.
The India supporters armed with ‘dholaks’ struck up a beat, but were compelled to beat a retreat. Most were good humoured, considering the grimness of the circumstances. Some, though, raised nationalistic slogans unsuitable for a sporting occasion.
The news of an otherwise unmitigatedly desultory day was the ICC’s announcement of an official wine partner for the match — Australia’s Jacob’s Creek.
The weakness of the ICC in the face of affiliates like the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and broadcast rights holders has been exposed over the past quarter of a century.
The chief executive of the world body — then headquartered at Lord’s cricket ground in London before relocating to tax-friendly Dubai — had discussed the concept of “Test cricket with a context” with this correspondent as far back as the second half of the 1990s. The ICC finally voted in favour of it in 2010. But two attempts to launch a competition since then came a cropper.
Eventually, an imperfect two-year league rising to a crescendo of a one-Test play-off between the top two points earners took off in 2019. But it has been ill-fated with the headwind of the Covid pandemic almost forcing an abandonment.
It will be a crushing ill-fortune for cricket connoisseurs if the final proves to be inconclusive because of the unusually inclement English weather for a summer season.
(Senior cricket writer Ashis Ray is a broadcaster and author of the book ‘Cricket World Cup: The Indian Challenge’)
By Ashis Ray