The sun, after playing hide and seek with the clouds, finally shone in all its glory at Southampton and the inaugural ICC World Test Championship summit clash had its closure on the reserve sixth day. New Zealand emerged as deserving winners with skipper Kane Williamson leading from the front through knocks of 49 and an unbeaten 52, both outings buttressed by patience and a steely resolve to counter a strong Indian bowling unit. The Black Caps won by eight wickets and Virat Kohli’s men had to draw solace from being second-best. They had to accept that the opposition was stronger in English conditions akin to New Zealand backyards unlike the tropical heat and abrasive pitches seen in India. Williamson also relished his luck at the toss and immediately elected to field with the damp weather and moist air further enhancing his pace-attack’s potency. Even while the seniors Tim Southee and Trent Boult did their nagging lines, tall Kyle Jamieson, the man-of-the-final, extracted bounce and lateral movement and shackled the tentative Indian batsmen nibbling outside the off-stump. In a Test spiced by the elements, a low-scoring slugfest was in order and once New Zealand snatched a 32-run first-innings lead and reduced India’s second dig to just 170, barring a miracle Kohli’s men were down for the count and the meagre 139-run target hardly stretched the eventual champion.
India’s cricketing nostalgia is infused with the glories of ‘Indo-Pak’ rivalry, the 1983 World Cup final against the mighty West Indies or the battles against Australia right from the miracle of Eden Gardens in 2001. But it has to be admitted that matches involving India and New Zealand have also acquired a mystique of their own. In recent ICC duels, New Zealand held the edge and it continued in Southampton. During the 2019 World Cup semifinal at Manchester, New Zealand prevailed and even that face-off spilled into the reserve day. The tale back then was one of swing and dark skies and the same backdrop was present at Southampton. New Zealand has often ended up as the bridesmaid in premier tournaments but a corner was turned over the last few days and it augurs well for cricket’s health while new champions step up. India, which last won ICC silverware — the Champions Trophy — in 2013, did well in the run-up to the latest final and its rousing triumph in Australia earlier this year was the stuff of dreams. The squad has the right mix and after a break, it will be time to get back into the bio-bubble and then play the five-Test series against host England from August 4. A battle of attrition awaits India while New Zealand flies back with the champion’s halo.