Two full days and a bit lost to rain and bad light, a reserve day requisitioned to offset some of it and a result coming in the final hour of play, as the World Test Championship final went through agonising twists and turns over some brilliant passages of play, producing in the end what everyone wanted- a world champion. Report | Highlights | Scorecard | Cricket News
For New Zealand, it was their first ever ICC world championship win in any format after the 2000 ICC Champions Trophy in Nairobi, despite having come tantalisingly close on many occasions in the past, never more so than the World Cup final of 2019 at Lord’s. But here they were, the nice guys who had finished first, humble, hard-working, committed and victorious.
As expected, it was a game dominated by the bowlers who were brilliant, on both sides and a war of attrition for the batsmen, calling for long hours of fierce concentration and patience against a ball that never really stopped moving around, never allowing them to fully settle and be at ease at the crease, with the unplayable ball seemingly just round the corner at all times.
The match at the Hampshire Bowl in Southampton produced just two fifties, both by New Zealand, the second one coming in the closing stages of the game.Even the sun coming out did not ease matters or make batting easierand, in the end, it was the team that was more disciplined and grittier that emerged deserving winners.
The prolonged swing and seam movement produced by the Kiwi pacers outfoxed the famed Indian batting, who would now need to go back to the drawing board once again to work out their strategies against the moving ball. Ultimately, the luxury of playing two Test matches prior to the WTC Final made a huge difference for New Zealand and their bowlers who knew exactly how to exploit the conditions and the Dukes ball to maximum effect, with the fab four hitting the right areas and right lengths with unrelenting accuracy.
Three Indian top order batsmen got hit on the helmet including skipper Virat Kohli, which goes to show that express pace is not always the criteria to surprise a world class batsman with a bouncer, so long as it is well directed.
In contrast, the Indian pacers, particularly Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah could notquite produce a similar effect. And although Mohammed Shami looked consistently threatening, he did not have the luxury of having the kind ofback up pressure exerted by the other Indian pacers, which the New Zealand pace quartet kept up consistently on the Indian batsmen throughout the match. The two Indian bowlers known who could have used these conditions best, with their ability to swing the ball both ways, Mohammad Siraj and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, were both unavailable, with Siraj sitting outside in a yellow bib and Kumar not picked for the tour.
After India got off to a great start in the first innings, Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson were especially brilliant, with Jamieson who picked up an impressive 5-31 in 22 overs getting to his fifth five-wicket haul in just eight Test matches. His wickets included the prize scalp of Kohli in both innings, trapped in front by one that came in in the first innings and edging one that left him in the second, both times at the start of a day’s play when things seemed to be going well for India. Both dismissals triggered a slide from which they never recovered as wickets fell at regular intervals with hardly a partnership worth the mention.
New Zealand's Kyle Jamieson celebrates with teammates after taking a wicket during the World Test Championship final against India, at the Rose Bowl in Southampton, England. Photo: AP
The impressive duo, backed up admirably by Trent Boult and Neil Wagner, looked consistently menacing throughout the game and often angled deliveries into the batsmen from slightly wide of the sumps. Deliveries that moved away just enough after pitching,opening up the batsmenand finding the outside edge on its way through to the keeper or into the slips cordon. And these were regularly complemented by ones that came back sharply after pitching, to trapbatsmen like Shubman Gill, Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara in front, in the second innings.
That remained the order of play for the most part of this Test match, the batsmen playing and missing time and again andthe Dukes ball doing all kinds of things. It sometimes appeared to move either way on its own accord off a viciously wobbling seam, which seems to be the modern method employed by the England bowlers, James Anderson and Stuart Broad particularly. A methodused equally effectively by Southee in this game.
And thiswas perhaps a glimpse of what is in store over the long summer ahead when bits of cricket sandwiched between long rain delays and stoppages caused by bad light,may easily turn out to be the norm,with the Indian batsmen constantly up against a bunch ofwicket-hungry, world class pacers hunting in a pack, swinging and seaming the Dukes Ball throughout the day.
It will call for more determination and technical finesse than was shown in this game, which to be fair to the Indians, was practically their first serious game of the tour in these conditions. It is still unclear how many competitive games the Indians will get before the five Test matches against England commence and that is a cause for concern.Intra-squad warm up matches can never quite make up for competitive games against opposition capable of using the conditions and the Dukes Ball to optimum effect.
Probably the only difference against England would be that India may have a more fragile batting order to bowl at and there could perhaps be a few more catches going down in the slips cordon, both of which could potentially improve their prospects of putting up a better showing.
The wickets however, will be the same and runs will be hard to come by.Batsman will have to be patient and watchful and play at the ball as late as Kane Williamson does. He batted almost five hours for his 49 in the first innings and then for another two hours and 20 minutes under pressure on a difficult final day wicket, for his match winning 50 in the company of his old mate Ross Taylor, who played an equally impressive knock in the second innings. And it would be difficult to recall a similar captain’s knock on such a big stage, played under so much pressure, in recent memory.
And so, India miss out once again and It would be hard not to feel for them, they have played so well in recent years and thoroughly deserved their place in the WTC final.But they’d been found wanting again against the moving ball.
(The writer, a retired Indian Air Force Wing Commander, played first class cricket for Services. Views are personal)