India and New Zealand, the protagonists of the keenly-awaited World Test Championship final, face a problem of riches. The captains are spoilt for choices with the plethora of talent at their disposal, more so because each individual is unique in what they bring to the table. It is going to be the conditions that will have the final say in determining the composition of the respective playing elevens. Here’s a look at how the teams could shape up:
IndiaWill Vihari Make The Cut at Jadeja’s Expense?
India’s opening pair is cast in stone with Shubman Gill and Rohit Sharma the only specialist openers in the 15-man squad named on Tuesday evening. Anchoring their middle-order will be the prodigious triumvirate of Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane. The top five is sorted as clean as a whistle, followed by the pocket dynamite that is Rishabh Pant.
However, it’ll be a tricky toss-up between Hanuma Vihari and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja for the number seven slot. India might fancy a defensive cushion to the batting considering it's still early in the English summer and the pace battery they’re up against is nothing short of imperious. If that school of thought is adhered to, Vihari can crack the nod over Jadeja.
Vihari was the first Indian player to reach England for his three-match stint with Warwickshire in the nascent stages of the County Championship. Although he struck just a solo half-century in six innings, he spent plenty of time in the middle, in conditions that were characteristically cold and overcast. Vihari can stem the rot if wickets fall in a cluster, thereby making sure an implosion upfront doesn’t wipe India out of the contest. He was the saviour-in-chief who kept 161 balls at bay as India salvaged an iconic draw versus Australia at the SCG.
While Vihari is a banker of a batsman, India will find it hard to overlook the three-dimensional prowess of Jadeja. The southpaw flexed his muscles in the intra-squad practice match at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, weaving an unbeaten 54 off 76 deliveries. His credentials in the UK aren’t half-bad either. He has managed 16 wickets in five Tests to go with 276 runs at an average of 30.66 including two half-centuries. The buzz around the pitch assisting turn does plump Jadeja’s case even further for a richly-deserved mention on the team sheet.
Siraj’s Hostility or Shami’s Calibre?
Siraj was the pick of the bowlers in India’s victorious campaign Down Under. Slotted in as a rookie, he served the mantle of a spearhead by the ultimate Test as injuries lingered around the visitors like a foul smell. In the fourth Test against England this year, Siraj trapped Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root plumb after cleverly setting them up with a barrage of outswingers.
On India A's shadow tour of England in 2018, Siraj netted 15 wickets in two Tests against the England Lions and West Indies A at an average of 17.73, laced with three 4-fers. The speed merchant has ticked all the boxes to merit selection, but there’s room for only three seamers by the looks of it and the established trio of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma would plausibly get the captain’s vote on the virtue of seniority.
Bumrah, who featured in three Tests during the 2018 tour, boasts of the best strike-rate and average among the quartet, and is all set to lead the pack. With a dozen Tests spread across four trips to the UK, along with county stints, Ishant has wealth of experience under his belt. The seasoned campaigner also topped the wicket chart in the 2018 series with 18 scalps.
Shami may lag behind in the number game, but his exquisite seam presentation makes him a terror with the new ball. India could unleash a four-pronged pace attack if the Southampton surface sports a green tinge, otherwise, the think tank will be left to deal with the dilemma of opting any two out of Siraj, Shami and Ishant.
Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma
New Zealand had a robust couple of workouts against England recently and hence, have fewer headaches to tend to. Devon Conway has grabbed the vacant opening slot with gusto, Ross Taylor seems right in his element, and Kane Williamson and BJ Watling are pretty optimistic about regaining match fitness.
Neil Wagner’s short-ball ploy is rendered redundant on occasions and thus, there might be a temptation to give Matt Henry a go on account of his county exposure and versatility. Though Wagner snaffling the prize wickets of Rory Burns and Root in the series opener was a timely reminder that the workhorse can move the ball and operate effectively in a conventional role too.
Spin to Win or Hedge The Bet?
With five batsmen, the wicketkeeper and four quicks locked and loaded, the Kiwis don’t have much to stress about, save for the fifth bowling option. The debate lies between a spinner in Ajaz Patel, which rounds up their bowling arsenal should the track behave true to its nature and Colin de Grandhomme, a utility cricketer who lends meat to the batting unit and refuses the opposition any breathing space when the ball is hooping around corners.
England regretted putting all their eggs in one basket last week as they fielded four pacemen and no spinners on a strip that saw Patel walk away with a four-wicket haul. As they say, a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.
Devon Conway, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling (wk), Kyle Jamieson, Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner, Ajaz Patel
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