New Zealand got the better of India by eight wickets in a rain-hit final to emerge champions in the inaugural edition of the ICC World Test Championship. The Kiwis under Kane Williamson outwitted Virat Kohli & Co. at the Hampshire Bowl. The Black Caps had ended India's run in the semifinal of the 2019 ICC World Cup too as Kohli's wait for a global title as captain continues.
The Kiwis were deserving champions and all credit to Williamson and his men for forcing a result in just over 310 overs (less than three-and-a-half-day's play) in a final which went into the sixth day. The Indian batsmen lacked the will to fight it out on the reserve day and lost 8/106 in 43 overs to be bowled out for 170. The senior pros Williamson and Ross Taylor took the Kiwis home with a sensible stand.
It was poetic justice for the Kiwis after the heartbreaking loss to England in the 2019 World Cup final. Kyle Jamieson was the wrecker-in-chief as his match haul of 7/61 set up their maiden world title. The lanky pacer was ably supported by the trio of Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner. The Kiwi seamers were relentless and suffocated the Indian batsmen whose weakness against the moving ball was on view yet again.
New Zealand had the edge considering the final was played at Southampton where the conditions favoured their bowlers more than the Indian attack. The Kiwis also had the advantage of having triumphed 1-0 over England in a two-Test series which preceded the final. The Indians on the other hand were short of match practice. However, they did well to last more than 92 overs and managed 217 in the first innings when the going was tough.
Mohammed Shami bowled his heart out to lead the Indian fightback. The Indians, though, let the Kiwis off the hook after having reduced them to 135/5. New Zealand went on to score 249 and gained a precious first innings lead of 32. The stark difference in the contributions of the lower order batsmen had a huge impact on the outcome.
The Indian think tank needs to revisit the wisdom of going into the final with just five specialist batsmen. The decision to field two spinners even after the first day’s play was washed out was shocking to say the least. The toss had not taken place and the Indians had all the time in the world to make changes to the eleven they had already announced. It made no cricket sense to play both Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin when the conditions were overcast and the weather forecast was for more rains. If at all India wanted to go in with five bowlers, an extra seamer in place of Jadeja or Ashwin would have been ideal. India badly missed a fourth seamer, especially with Jasprit Bumrah struggling to find his rhythm.
The Kiwis on the other hand got the team combination spot on as they fielded an all-seam attack. Williamson's astute captaincy and calm batting under pressure plus the fact he won an important toss made their job easier.
Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri have never ceased to surprise with their choice of playing eleven. Even the most ardent Kohli fan would concede that the Indian captain’s tactics leave a lot to be desired. In big games, the margin for error is very little and you need to give yourself the best shot by going in with the best possible eleven. One has to be flexible with the team formation and needs to assess the conditions before arriving at a decision.
Kohli had stated before the final that the summit clash alone will not decide which is the best team in the world and that the focus of the Indian team was to do well in the upcoming Test series against England as well. India have not won a series in England since 2007 and the five-match series offers them a chance to set the record straight. However, for that to happen India needs to adopt a horses for courses policy.
A series win over a depleted Australia in 2019 is all what India have achieved in SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) countries under Kohli. There is no doubt about the quality of this Indian team. But the bitter truth is that India should be winning more with this bunch of players. How Ajinkya Rahane rallied the troops to script a memorable triumph in Australia earlier this year in Kohli's absence is fresh in the minds of cricket lovers.
India need to win series in England, South Africa and New Zealand to be labelled alongside the all-conquering West Indies side of the 1980s or the great Australian teams under Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. Polishing off the opposition tail and extracting a few runs from their own tailenders continue to be a conundrum for Team India. Relying on just five specialist batters plus the mercurial Rishabh Pant in English conditions is asking for trouble. The sooner Kohli realises it, the better India’s chances of ending the long wait.