India's batting technique will be the key in WTC final vs New Zealand
- Cricketing conditions in England are similar to those in NZ. Even if Australia is a neighbouring country, pitches in NZ are nothing like in Australia, where the ball does not swing and seam much and there is just pace and bounce.
If the World Test Championship final is held in India, New Zealand would be sent packing by the hosts inside three days, but that it’s going to be played in England, and that too in the first half of the English summer, makes NZ a much bigger hurdle for India to cross to win the WTC.
It was fascinating listening to Tamim Iqbal candidly explaining his success in England as a top order batsman. He said he was lucky that every time he batted the sun came out and batting conditions became perfect; it wasn’t the same for the rest, he said.
That’s where playing in England becomes tricky; although the pitches have become flatter, there isn’t much one can do about the overhead conditions. A flat pitch in overcast conditions doesn’t mean easy batting conditions. That is why when you are in England playing Tests, having a sound defence becomes an imperative.
Even the great Virat Kohli had to defend for hours and hours, and leave alone Jimmy Anderson’s out swingers outside off over after over, to get his three hundreds last tour.
When in England, all the old gospels of batting resurface—play close to the body, leave that ball outside off, etc.
Cricketing conditions in England are similar to those in NZ. Even if Australia is a neighbouring country, pitches in NZ are nothing like in Australia, where the ball does not swing and seam much and there is just pace and bounce.
To India’s credit, their batsmen have become pretty good of late at handling pace and bounce and hence the improving record in Australia. But NZ, well, that’s India’s real ‘discomfort zone’ as was evident in how India lost the last Test series there. The highest score India could get in the three Tests was 242. To be fair, NZ themselves struggled but they were a little better than India in batting and a great distance better in bowling. This I will elaborate on later.
So, when I look at the likely outcome of the Test I am mostly focusing on Indian batsmen and their ability to play close to the body, leave balls outside off, and yes, decisive foot work too. Feet on the crease and using the hands to hit balls through the covers works magnificently in India; in England, it’s an invitation to an early end to your innings.
Rohit Sharma as opener has improved tremendously with regards to defence. He plays the ball closer to the body now and is far more patient then he used to be. He also tends to leave more balls outside off and the feet move better, but England will still be his stiffest Test.
He will have to change his instinct and character as a batsman to succeed, unless the sun is out all the time. This will be a biggest test for Rohit Sharma the Test opener.
Word spreads quickly and NZ bowlers would know the place to bowl to Shubman Gill is on good length outside off. By the way, that’s where all Test cricket is played—on good length outside off. Hopefully Gill has worked on his technique and is able to get a better and quicker stride forward to handle that line/length or he will be a sitting duck for the likes of Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson.
Pujara again will be India’s brave soldier on the frontlines trying to keep the enemy at bay; he remains India’s ‘warranty’ if things start falling apart while Virat will be India’s game changer with the bat.
Tests just seem to get the best out of him, so there is no reason to expect anything different. Virat too does not enjoy the slow, seaming conditions of the NZ kind but he knows England would be a better version of what he encountered a year ago in NZ. He averages 36 in England, which shockingly is the highest average amongst this Indian batting line-up in England.
Rahane would be hit and miss like he has been for a few seasons now. Let’s see if India are impressed enough with Hanuma Vihari’s defiant game last he played for India to give him a Test place straightaway.
Game changer No. 2 with the bat will be Rishabh Pant. The number that he bats at, if NZ think they are through with the Indian batting after picking the top 5 they would have made the biggest mistake that could cost them the game. Pant at No.6 in Tests is a massive threat with the ability to change the course of a match. He has done this twice already in what is still a nascent Test career.
To summarise based on just weather and pitch conditions, NZ may have a slight edge at Southampton; they are just a little more at home than India and have players, especially bowlers, naturally suited to exploit such conditions.
Indian bowling is efficient, but in NZ they paid a heavy price for hitting the deck too much and not bowling the ball full and getting it to swing like the Kiwi bowlers did.