Were you surprised when India lost the World Test Championship final? I wasn’t. Because I thought the Black Caps held all the aces since the English conditions are very similar to those in New Zealand. Kiwi cricketers thrive in chilly weather with biting cold winds on seamer-friendly wickets.
Like in England, the ball moves around a lot in New Zealand. That makes the Kiwi swing bowlers a potent threat. The batsmen also learn to negotiate swinging deliveries as they graduate to higher levels of cricket.
Contrast that to India. The high-quality spinners help Indian batsmen to play the turning ball efficiently, and the docile pitches allow them to play extravagant stokes. However, these are of no help in English conditions, where the Indian batsmen would need to make plenty of adjustments to their game.
This is why I was sure the Ultimate Test was tilted heavily in favour of the New Zealanders. Moreover, it rained at Southampton’s Ageas Bowl, which meant more moisture in the air — ideal conditions for swing bowling.
Indian skipper Virat Kohli’s loss of the toss gave New Zealand the advantage of bowling first, and Kyle Jamieson and Tim Southee turned in fine performances that put Kane Williamson’s side on the path to victory.
The 6-feet 8-inch Jamieson triggered an Indian collapse when the batsmen seemed to have seen off the early terrors. That fragility resurfaced in the second innings too when Southee had the Indians on the hop.
I always believed that when bowlers wield the upper hand, good batting displays can win the match. Williamson’s 49 in the first innings and the unbeaten 52 in the second were pivotal in ensuring a Kiwi victory.
India did well in the first innings with Rohit Sharma, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane weighing in with decent scores. But the total was at least 50 runs short, as India collapsed from 149/3 to 217 all out. Even when the bowlers brought India back into the game, the Kiwis’ 32-run lead turned out to be handy. More so since India slumped to another pathetic batting display.
In short, the batsmen lost the match for India. After conceding a lead, an Indian victory was remote, and a draw was possible if India batted well in the second. But Southee didn’t allow that.
The loss also cast the spotlight on India’s decision to play two spinners in swing-friendly conditions, especially after the first day was rained off. Ravindra Jadeja was a passenger, while Mohammed Siraj would have relished bowling in these conditions.
The handicap was apparent when India had the Kiwis reeling and was unable to push the advantage. Kohli had to turn to Jadeja with the new ball a few overs away. It allowed Colin de Grandhomme to string a partnership with Williamson.
Williamson’s decision to play no spinners proved right. All the four pacers and De Grandhomme’s accurate seamers helped pile pressure by exploiting the conditions.
The New Zealanders outplayed India and are deserving winners. The World Test Championship title will be the salve to the hurt of losing the World Cup by a whisker. The Kiwis no long languish in the backwaters of Test cricket. They are the world champions.
Take a bow, New Zealand.
Shyam A. Krishna
Shyam A. Krishna is Senior Associate Editor at Gulf News. He writes on health and sport.