Test cricket has been lying in the realm of irrelevance for some time. The longest format of the game was begging for some changes to remain relevant in the contemporary scenario. However, after a series of flip-flops, ICC finally decided to have a World Test Championship final to anoint the winner as the top Test team. Earlier, the ranking was on the basis of points as per the performance of the teams in various bilateral series. This method was unable to infuse any interest or energy into Test cricket and the format was struggling to stay afloat due to the humongous popularity of T-20 cricket. However, eventually, the format has got something to play for with the introduction of the WTC final between two table-toppers among the Test teams. Whether this will have a significant impact on the Test matches, only time will tell.
Now coming to the WTC final to be played on June 18, India and New Zealand will be locking horns in England, Southampton, to pocket the championship. Both the teams are packed with splendid talents to make the final a thrilling contest. However, on paper India look stronger than New Zealand. Rightly so, India have more match-winning or impact players, such as Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah, Rishabh Pant, Rohit Sharma, etc, than Kiwis. But, it would be criminal to dismiss New Zealand on such an assumption. Kiwis are coming into this championship on the basis of a superlative performance away from home against England in a Test series, where they trumped the latter in their backyard (1-0). So, New Zealand will be right on the money in the WTC final.
India, on the other hand, will be coming to the championship on the basis of some intra-squad matches and that is about it. Not ideal preparation for an occasion as big as this. The only competitive cricket played by few Indians players happens to be the IPL 2021, which kicked off on April 9 and got temporarily canceled by the beginning of May. So, Indian players are quite short on experience and this aspect might weigh heavily among New Zealand when they take on the former on June 18.
However, cricketer-turned commentator Sunil Gavaskar does not think that lack of cricket will put India at a disadvantage. “There are some people who think New Zealand have an advantage of being match-ready. But, India will be match hungry and eager to get on to the ground after a month of inaction. India have more impact player with both bat and ball and they should win the game,” said the ace cricketer.
Statistically speaking, India have a significant edge with 21 wins from 59 Test matches played between both teams so far with New Zealand winning just 12. However, at home, New Zealand have an advantage as they have won 10 matches out of the 25 played with India winning only five. The home record of Kiwis is more than sufficient for many to argue that Black Caps have an edge as this time the match is played at a neutral venue and the conditions are not very different from what the Kiwis might encounter in their backyard. Also, when last time both India and New Zealand clashed at the latter’s venues in 2020, India lost the series very badly (2-0). This would prompt many to be dismissive of India’s prospects in the WTC final.
But inferences drawn on the basis of past encounters have turned out to be wrong assessments in the past as well. For Example, the recent Test series between India and Australia, where India defied all predictions of naysayers and won the series. So, let us not jump to any conclusion and write anyone off. May the best team win and as sports enthusiasts let us hope the encounter lives up to its billing as “the battle between two equals.”