By: RAHUL BANERJI, Senior Sports Journalist
India’s hopes of a historic first title in the inaugural season of the International Cricket Council’s World Test Championships were dashed by a dogged New Zealand at Southampton in England on Wednesday.
With a full day and more lost to rain, the showdown was extended into a sixth reserve day in the course of which the Kiwis, led superbly by the inspirational Kane Williamson emerged winners by eight wickets.
Asked to bat first, India were restricted to 217 with captain Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, contributing 44 and 49 respectively after openers Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill had given them a sound start.
New Zealand’s all-seam attack however kept the Indians under check, picking up wickets at regular intervals especially the towering Kyle Jaimeson who was most impressive with his five wickets.
New Zealand managed a narrow first-innings lead with the tail end batsmen helping put on what was eventually a crucial 80-plus run and with India’s batting unable to mount a testing total, there were simply not enough runs to test determined New Zealand batting in the final innings.
Williamson led from the front in a tense 139-run chase even though there were plenty of overs available on the final day. With senior batsman, Ross Taylor, the Kiwi captain put on an unbeaten 96 runs to seal a well-deserved win for the world’s second-ranked team.
For their part, Virat Kohli’s team were unable to recapture the grit and determination they had displayed in reaching the pinnacle of Test competition, especially their historic win in Australia late last year
Both teams took similar routes to the World Test Championship final, dominating their opponents with minor hiccups on the way.
India, on top of the ICC Test rankings since 2017 continued that form into the WTC finale qualifiers. Kohli’s team finished the league stage with 520 points from a possible maximum of 720 points to take the top spot
Along the way, India scored series wins over the West Indies, South Africa and Bangladesh in 2019 before stumbling to a series defeat against New Zealand in 2020. However, with the ICC changing qualification rules and bringing in percentage points, India needed to win their last two remaining series to enter the WTC final.
India started badly in Australia in 2020, bowled out for 36 in the first Test defeat at Adelaide but fought back superbly thereafter to the first level, and then win the series in Brisbane against all odds. Beating Australia in Melbourne kick-started the revival followed by a fighting draw at Sydney before victory at the Gabba, a venue India had never won at before.
One further defeat followed, in the first Test of the home series against England, but a 3-1 overall result ensured India’s place in the final for which New Zealand had already qualified.
The Kiwis started their WTC campaign in uncertain fashion, held to a 1-1 series draw in Sri Lanka and then thrashed 3-0 by Australia. Beating India at home, however, revived their fortunes and they remained unbeaten thereafter.
Along the way, New Zealand beat the West Indies with Williamson striking remarkable form. In fact, his run-scoring and the team’s success went hand in hand right till the WTC finale at the Ageas Bowl on Wednesday.
New Zealand also beat Pakistan at home and then England just days before the finale against India, meaning they came into the Southampton match well-prepared and familiarised with English conditions.