By Yajurvindra Singh
The New Zealand cricket side, a likeable unit that displays spirit of the game to a tee, won the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC) and proved to be worthy winner.
Under the captaincy of Kane Williamson, each and every member of the side showed discipline, dedication, maturity and humility on and off the field.
New Zealand deserved to win, one felt, to even out the unfortunate loss they suffered two years ago in the ODI World Cup final against England at Lord’s.
The sight of players, who were unlucky losers on a World Cup forum earlier, gleefully lifting the trophy showed that the game of cricket is full of highs and lows.
It seemed the final would be a washout with the weather in Southampton playing spoilsport. The additional day introduced by the International Cricket Council (ICC) to accommodate a rain-marred day proved to be a blessing in disguise. The sun came out on the final day like a beacon of light to bless the occasion and New Zealand made the best use of it.
The match was played in a gentlemanly fashion. Both India and New Zealand showcased competitive aggression but respected each other as friendly rivals.
With both sides having a positive mindset to get a result, Test cricket was the winner. The final day was an interesting affair as any result was possible — a win for either side or a draw.
India’s loss may put the focus on team selection. The lack of another pace or swing bowler instead of a spinner is one area being discussed at length. One felt that the side selected was the best team to take field. Unfortunately, India at present do not have a pace bowling all-rounder in their midst.
Shardul Thakur was their only option and one could debate as to why he was not a part of the playing XI. Hardik Pandya would have been a good option if he was fit and so to boost the Indian lower-order batting, Ravindra Jadeja was an ideal choice. Additionally, the Kiwi batsmen are not very comfortable playing spin and this was evident when Ashwin had both the New Zealand openers in his bag in the second innings.
The lack of match practice, one felt, was the Achilles’ heel of the Indian side. Both the batsmen and bowlers were experimenting a fair bit out in the middle. Batsmen were seen taking a stance outside the crease to counter the swing and movement of the ball in the air and off the wicket.
This may be a good approach, but it needed one to master it before implementation on such an important stage. Similarly, the bowlers were struggling to get consistency and rhythm in their line and length and India’s potent pace bowling weapon, Jasprit Bumrah, was one clear victim.
The New Zealand team, having played two Test matches before the final and having been in England for over a month, were more comfortable and confident in both the bowling and batting departments.
The Indian pace bowlers did bowl exceedingly well in the first innings but the mature and technically solid defence of Kane Williamson defused the situation. The Indian bowlers looked a bit jaded at the end of New Zealand’s first innings and those additional runs by the Kiwis’ tail-enders did give them that extra boost and confidence. India, from thereon, were playing catching up.
The present Indian side is an aggressive unit, always marching to take the battle into the enemy’s camp. This proved well for them during the series wins against Australia and England earlier, which helped them reach the WTC final. They, therefore, felt compelled to do so even when the chips were down.
In cricket, one must gauge the situation and prevailing conditions which the Indian batsmen failed to do. The early departure of Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara during the last day’s play put India on the back-foot, but the Indian batsmen still felt that they had the firepower to notch a reasonable score in quick time.
The astute Williamson understood India’s game-plan as Ravindra Jadeja and Rishabh Pant looked set for an assault. He cleverly brought in Neil Wagner to bowl bouncers with four fielders deeply placed on the leg-side boundary.
At the other bowling end, he had the most impressive and accurate Kyle Jamieson bowling his immaculate line and length. The New Zealand skipper slowed the momentum of the game by not giving the Indian pair easy boundaries and playing on the patience of the attacking and aggressive duo. Both succumbed to the ploy along with Ravichandran Ashwin and Mohammad Shami.
India, rather than playing for a draw, were outsmarted by Williamson and his tactics. One could hear shouts from the stand accusing the Kiwis captain of playing safe, but aggression can also be shown in defence and this was one example of New Zealand playing smarter than India.
A Test champion cannot be decided in a match. The ICC should ensure two things. One is to have a 3-match series final and the other is to see every team playing each other. India, in this edition, missed playing Pakistan and Sri Lanka. A World Test Championship needs better scheduling and the ICC needs to make it a priority.
The WTC final showed how Test cricket tests one’s skills, patience, stamina, fitness, consistency and mental strength. The see-saw battle between the two top Test playing sides was on show highlighting the vagaries and uncertainties of the game. Thank heavens, the runs and strike-rates were not on the agenda. The skill of good technical batting and bowling was on display. Who said Test cricket was boring!
Congrats New Zealand, you are deserving and worthy winners.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)
By Yajurvindra Singh