India and New Zealand are vying for the latest ICC trophy in the game’s original format
Ever since Australia and England played the first ever Test at Melbourne in March 1877, cricket’s longest format has constantly evolved. Timeless Tests were dispensed with and rest days within a game were discarded while faster siblings One Day Internationals and Twenty20s emerged. As the abridged variants attracted fans and commerce, Tests of recent vintage also embraced the day-and-night spectacle. Through these changes, nations have tested themselves in bilateral series with the Ashes and India-Pakistan clashes having stronger brand equity. Yet, there was a demand for context, a yearning that these languid affairs with breaks for lunch and tea over five days coalesce into something more significant. Limited-overs’ cricket had World Cups but in Tests, it was all about annual rankings. The International Cricket Council (ICC) stepped in to plug this gap with the World Test Championship (WTC) and the inaugural final will feature India and New Zealand, the leading two teams based on points garnered since 2019. The summit clash commencing at Southampton’s Ageas Bowl on Friday, presents an opportunity for both India and New Zealand to gain some ICC silverware that is missing in their trophy cabinets. The respective countries have suffered a title drought with New Zealand winning the ICC Knockout tournament, as the Champions Trophy was known then, back in 2000 while India claimed the ICC Champions Trophy in 2013.
Previously, Virat Kohli’s and Kane Williamson’s men had riveting jousts though it was the New Zealanders who mostly emerged on top. India lost the 2019 World Cup semi-final at Manchester and last year in New Zealand, won the T20Is and then succumbed in the ODIs and Tests. A neutral venue can negate home-advantage but New Zealand may feel more comfortable while taking into account the playing surface and the prevailing weather. However, India has the confidence gleaned from winning in Australia while also getting the better of England when Joe Root’s men came visiting. Meanwhile, true to its giant-slayer tag, New Zealand edged past England with a 1-0 verdict in the two-Test series over the last fortnight. Williamson and company have been in cricket’s birthplace for a longer time with additional matches under their belt while India has the solace of intra-squad warm-up games. The simplistic trope would be Indian batting against opposition bowling but times have changed and Kohli has an incisive pace arsenal led by Jasprit Bumrah besides solid back-up in spin. The teams seem equal and the provision for an extra sixth day should come in handy as rains are forecast. If there is a draw or a tie, the championship will be shared which is ideal as in their unique ways, India and New Zealand have repeatedly proved their mettle.