The 2019-21 World Test Championship (WTC) will reach its climax tomorrow, when India takes on New Zealand in the final at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton.
Both the teams are equally balanced and hence, predicting the outcome isn’t going to be easy.
In terms of match preparation, Indians are lagging behind the New Zealanders.
Their last Test series against England was a few months ago and most players have featured only in the shorter formats since.
In sharp contrast, New Zealand with two matches against England under their belt, are definitely more match-fit.
Which team will win?
It’s fair to say that both the teams are equally skilled.
A basic analysis would suggest that New Zealand would be more comfortable against swing bowling than the Indians.
On the flip side, the Indian spin attack with Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja is miles ahead and can pose serious problems to the Kiwi batting line-up.
What about current form?
Kohli heads into the match sitting at fifth on the ICC Test batting standings and looking to notch his first century in the format since 2019.
For the Kiwis, bowler Tim Southee could be surprise package.
Southee has taken 51 wickets at 20.66 in the WTC, with three five-wicket hauls along the way, while also snaring a six-for (6/43) in his most recent Test outing against England.
More tellingly, he has thrived against India in the past, averaging 24.46 which is nearly four runs fewer than his career average of 28.31.
Apart from Kohli, India will rely heavily on Ajinkya Rahane.
Rahane has scored 1095 runs at 43.80 this WTC cycle, notching three centuries and six half-centuries across 17 matches.
Also, Rahane has a terrific record on English soil, unlike most other Indian batsmen.
Let’s look at three more pieces of information that might have a huge bearing on the outcome.
One, India has never won a test match in Southampton.
In fact, India has lost both the matches they played in Southampton previously.
Two, Ravichandran Ashwin has dismisssed Kane Williamson 5 times in Test cricket across just 9 innings. If Ashwin can exploit this chink yet agin, India will benefit hugely.
Three, Kiwi wicket-keeper, BJ Watling averages 50 with the bat in Test cricket on England soil from the 8 innings he has played.
Both Kane Williamson and Virat Kohli haven’t won a single ICC Trophy as captain. So they won’t be lacking in motivation.
Head groundsman Simon Lee recently commented that he would look to produce a pitch with “pace, bounce and carry” for the finals.
So it’s game on!
Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (vc), Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha (wk).
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 and Will Young.