The Inner Sanctum’s World Test Championship Final Preview

Skippers Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson will be key to the result of Friday's World Test Championship Final. Images: cricket.com.au/ Ryan Pierse

All eyes will be on Test cricket’s newest showpiece event as India takes on New Zealand in the World Test Championship (WTC) Final at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton on Friday. 

India finished atop the WTC points table, with a win percentage of 72.2, while New Zealand qualified for the final as the second-placed nation, with a win percentage of 70.0.

The Inner Sanctum previews Friday’s World Test Championship Final, and the key players, matchups, and statistics that will shape the match.

Head-to-Head

The ledger between India and New Zealand in Test matches sits slightly in favour of India, having won 21 of 59 matches against the Kiwis. New Zealand has won 12 Test matches against India, with 26 draws between the countries.

New Zealand comfortably won its two most recent matches against India, with ten and seven-wicket wins at home at the beginning of 2020.

Before that, India won its last home series against the Kiwis just as comfortably, with wins by 197, 178, and 321 runs in 2016.

With the countries having never played a neutral-venue test against each other, it looms as an interesting matchup, as the home advantage that seems to have a substantial influence on their clashes will be nullified.

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Key Players

Jasprit Bumrah. Having perhaps become the spearhead of India’s attack in recent years, Bumrah will be the bowler key to India’s success in the WTC final. Bumrah has taken 14 wickets in his three matches in England, with one five-wicket haul and an economy of 2.72. He’s also taken six wickets from two matches against New Zealand, again with an economy of 3.08. Bumrah’s success in Australian conditions, could also be an indicator of his potential for success in equally seam-friendly English conditions.

Cheteshwar Pujara. Pujara is regularly the thorn in the side of India’s opposition, and New Zealand is no exception. The number three batter averages 46 against the Kiwis and has faced an average of 100.2 balls per innings, with two tons and four fifties in his nine matches against New Zealand. His resolute approach to batting will hold him in good stead against New Zealand’s star pace attack, and he’ll be key at the top of the order for India.

Trent Boult. Boult was one of the stars in New Zealand’s series against India in January 2020, claiming 11 wickets at 19.36 from the two matches. Boult’s average of 22.4 in England indicates that he’ll be a key pillar of New Zealand’s playing XI, particularly also given his recent success against India. Boult’s bowling style heavily suits the English conditions, so similarly to Bumrah, he could be in line for some further success in the WTC final.

Ross Taylor. The veteran of New Zealand’s batting lineup, Taylor’s record both In England and against New Zealand will see him a key member of the Kiwi outfit once again. From 14 matches against India, Taylor has scored three centuries and a fifty, while he averages a solid 40.62 in England. In the key number four spot, Taylor will be the steady, experienced hand New Zealand need in the WTC final. 

Key Match-Up

Virat Kohli vs Kane Williamson. Test cricket’s showpiece event needs no bigger match-up than the opposing captains and fourth and second-ranked men’s batters in the world. 

Both average over 52 in Test cricket and the Kiwi captain is ranked higher in the ICC’s Test batting rankings, Kohli’s averages and experience in England stacks up better than Williamson. Kohli averages 36.35 from his ten Tests in England, with two centuries and three half-centuries. Williamson, on the other hand, averages 26.1 from his five Tests in England, with one hundred and one fifty. 

Against India, however, Williamson’s record is more sound. He averages 36.4 with two hundreds and four fifties from his 20 innings against the WTC’s top team. Kohli averages an astonishing 51.53 from 17 innings against New Zealand, with three tons and three fifties. 

The match-up between the opposing skippers is likely to be key in the outcome of the WTC final. The two star batters are central to both their teams’ batting lineups. It’s no secret that they’re both made for the big stage, so all eyes will be on the skippers as they take to the field on Friday.

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Players to Watch

Young opening batter Shubman Gill starred in his debut series during the Australian Summer and will be one to watch despite a lean home series against England earlier in the year. Gill scored 259 runs at 51.8 against the Aussies, with two fifties in an impressive first international showing. And despite only managing 119 runs at 19.83 in four tests against England, he appears to have been backed in by India’s selectors to step up on the World Test Championship Final stage.

Another to watch for India will be fast bowler Mohammed Siraj, who also established himself as an up-and-coming Test player in the Summer’s series against Australia. Siraj took 13 wickets at 29.53 in 3 Tests against the Aussies, before claiming another three from the two home Tests he played against England. Siraj will be contending with the likes of Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav for a spot in India’s XI, but should the WTC points table leaders opt for four fast-bowlers, Siraj will hopefully get a chance to impress once again. 

The star find of New Zealand’s series against England, Devon Conway is an exciting prospect for the Kiwis after his astonishing debut double-ton. The 29-year-old boasts a first-class average of 47.97, as well as 19 centuries and 33 half-centuries, and hardly looked out of place at the top of the order in his two Test appearances to date. 

Having claimed the specialist spinner place in New Zealand’s Squad, left-arm orthodox bowler Ajaz Patel will likely occupy the role in New Zealand’s playing XI ahead of Test regular Mitchell Santner. Patel has taken 26 wickets in his nine test matches to date, with two five-wicket hauls to his name. He claimed match figures of 4/59 in the second Test against England, and while he may not be as effective in the more pace-friendly English conditions, his Test career economy of 2.69 will be a handy asset for the Kiwis. 

Who’s Missing?

For India, opener Mayank Agarwal, allrounder Washington Sundar, spinner Axar Patel, and fast bowler Shardul Thakur are the notable absentees from its extended touring squad that will face England later in the 2021 Summer.

The most glaring omission from New Zealand’s squad of 15 was spinner Mitchell Santner, who has been left out in favour of his spinning counterpart Ajaz Patel. Alongside Santner, the Kiwis also left out all-rounder Daryl Mitchell, fast bowlers Doug Bracewell and Jacob Duffy, and opening batter Rachin Ravindra.

Predicted XIs

India: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah

New Zealand: Tom Latham, Devon Conway, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling, Colin de Grandhomme, Neil Wagner, Tim Southee, Ajaz Patel, Trent Boult

The Squads

India: Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Shubman Gill, Ravindra Jadeja, Virat Kohli (c), Rishabh Pant, Chesteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha, Mohammed Siraj, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Hanuma Vihari, Umesh Yadav

New Zealand: Kane Williamson (c), Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Devon Conway, Colin de Grandhomme, Matt Henry, Kyle Jamieson, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls, Ajaz Patel, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner, BJ Watling, Will Young

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