Staff of the India team walk around the outfield on the rain-affected first day of the ICC World Test Championship Final against New Zealand at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton. (AFP)
Staff of the India team walk around the outfield on the rain-affected first day of the ICC World Test Championship Final against New Zealand at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton. (AFP)

Rain washes out Day 1 of WTC final

With an extra day scheduled, there may still be time for a result. Over in Bristol, India women trail, but Shafali continues to shine
By Somshuvra Laha, Kolkata
UPDATED ON JUN 18, 2021 10:49 PM IST

It’s official. We will have a six-day Test match for the first time since 2005. It’s another matter the International Cricket Council (ICC) may still not be able to salvage even five days of play in the World Test Championship final considering the rain forecast in Southampton for the weekend. That’s where it starts to get interesting. On the one hand we have India who announced their eleven on Thursday, boldly picking two spinners in R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. New Zealand, however, have kept mum. “We haven’t confirmed the final XI,” New Zealand vice-captain Tom Latham said in a press conference after play was called off. “I’m sure Kane (Williamson) has a few contingencies in mind.” Technically, the final eleven can be changed any time before the toss. And even though India fielding coach R Sridhar said the chosen eleven are good enough for any surface, it’s bound to cast some doubt every passing hour the pitch stays under covers.

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Shafali on the rampage

Rain in England has a summer season pass. So it’s hardly news that Bristol, a good 100 miles (around 164 km) from Southampton, too received rain that almost threatened to derail the third day’s play between the English and Indian women. What clearly hasn’t dampened is the spirit of Shafali Verma who became the youngest women’s cricketer to hit two fifties in her debut Test. But it will require some fight and more to wipe out a 168-run deficit after left-arm spinner Sophie Ecclestone took 4/88 to enforce a follow-on. Deepti Sharma, who was the only beacon of hope in the first innings with a resilient 29 amid a string of single-digit scores, has been promoted to No 3. After an early close of play, India women were still trailing by 82 runs, with Verma batting on 55 and Sharma on 18. Despite the slipping fortunes, the game has given the India dressing room something to talk about. “Shafali reminds so much of Viru (Virender Sehwag) doesn’t she?,” Sridhar said.

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Darts and table tennis

Apart from that it’s been darts and a bit of table tennis, whatever it takes to keep the mind occupied as rain hammered the Aegeas Bowl. “There is no shortage of buzz and laughter when we are waiting,” said Sridhar. “Virat gives us a good laugh, Pant keeps us in good humour.” This isn’t your regular Test match where there is an urgency to catch the team bus the moment umpires call stumps after inspection. With the hotel just a walk across the park to the other end of the Ageas Bowl, players will have plenty of time to ponder about their game. The playing conditions may change due to the persistent rain but there is may be enough time to get a result. Overall run-rates have improved, defensive batting is on the wane and four-day finishes are common nowadays. The last time New Zealand played Tests against India (in 2020), they within four and three days.

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“The beauty of it is there is day six as well, so there is a little extra time that we can use then. We’ll wait and see and have a look tomorrow,” said Latham. The last time a six-day Test was scheduled, between Australia and an ICC XI in 2005, it finished in just over three days. Six-day Tests haven’t been particularly nice to India throughout its sporadic existence. There was the humdinger in a five-Test series finale at Adelaide (1978) that Australia won by 47 runs despite stupendous fifties from Mohinder Amarnath (86), Gundappa Viswanath (73) and Dilip Vengsarkar (78) in the chase of 493. Before that came the heartbreak at Wankhede in 1975 when Clive Lloyd’s unbeaten 242 helped West Indies inflict a 201-run defeat on India and win the series 3-2.

But this is a one-off, winner-takes-it-all match that will demand a different approach. Playing for a draw, like the one MS Dhoni carved out in 2007 playing with the lower-order at Lord’s, isn’t a scenario any team would want to entertain. There have been some fascinating rain curtailed thrillers, most famously the Centurion Test where Hansie Cronje and Nasser Hussain agreed to declare one innings each after rain washed out more than three days of play. With several weather-induced interruptions predicted over the next few days, the players’ ability to adjust quickly will be under immense scrutiny. “They are going to be on and off the field with the weather so they will have to know how to keep their concentration going, switching on, switching off,” said Sridhar.

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