India, New Zealand, rain-delays, reserved days, and an ICC Tournament in England – it wasn’t a long ago that we had seen the same setup yield a similar result. Albeit in the longer Test format, New Zealand once again came out on top, this time to be crowned the inaugural World Test Champions. Their first-ever ICC crown since the ICC Knockout Trophy triumph in 2000, the Kiwis turned up to be the better side on the park throughout the 6-days and deserved their hands at cricket’s greatest throne.
New Zealand are an unassuming, humble side who play cricket as it should be played. Lots of hardworking, disciplined, skilled players. This is probably their best test side and you have to admire them.
— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) June 23, 2021
Most fitting of all was the presence of Kane Williamson, their ace captain, and star performer, and Ross Taylor, their most prolific all-time great, at the crease to hit the winning runs. New Zealand’s journey that began a couple of years back with a tour to Sri Lanka had ended with one of their greatest ever wins in Test match cricket. Despite the delays following the rains, bad light, and wet outfield, the two teams managed to get some game time courtesy of the reserved Day 6.
Both India and New Zealand kept coming back at each other right through the Test match. While it was India who managed to get going well on Day 2 after the washout allowed no play on the first day. Virat and Rahane remained unbeaten at the crease when bad light interrupted play on Day 2. However, the Kiwis came back hunting like a pack of wolves to strangle India cheaply for only 217 in the first innings. In reply, and at the end of Day 3, New Zealand was pretty comfortable at 101/2. Right through the first 4 days, rain and bad light had played a spoilsport not allowing the full quota of overs. Adding an insult, Day 4 was also abandoned due to persistent rain leaving only two days for the remaining three innings to be panned out.
It was the time where India needed to strike hard and early on Day 5 to stand a chance at going for the win. To everyone’s surprise, the bowling attack that lacked the zip, swing, and consistency to pick wickets the previous day, came all fired up to get Kiwis struggling at 135/5 before Lunch. The New Zealand skipper, and messiah, as he transpired to be later, Kane Williamson was still at the crease. He had the intent, concentration, and ability to play out time and tire the Indian bowlers. Shami and Ishant, the two Indians who showed impeccable form in their short blast in the morning could not get rid of Williamson early on. He was also well-accompanied by the New Zealand bowlers, de Grandhomme, Southee, and Jamieson – each of whom returned with a respectable and an important knock against their name. And as it eventually turned out, NZ managed to bag a crucial first-innings lead of 32 runs.
The match now was only half done, and despite New Zealand’s edge over India, one believed it was still even for both the teams to sneak out a win. The match had kept swinging across the two ends and heading into the last day with 98 overs to be bowled, there was a purpose highlighted for both teams. With two of their most trusted batters in Kohli and Pujara at the crease, Indians were expected to begin crisply. However, the 6’8” Kyle Jamieson emerged out to be a tower of problems for the Indians. The speedster, who bowled at an economy of under 1.5, picking 7 wickets in the Test match, dismissed both the overnight batters cheaply setting up a perfect stage for the Kiwis.
The ones to follow Rahane, Pant, Jadeja, Ashwin all tried to stick around in pursuit of scoring runs but none, except for Pant managed a significant contribution. While Rahane gloved a ball straying down the leg side, Jadeja was flummoxed by a well-worked-out plan by Wagner. The Kiwi speedster kept challenging Jadeja, Pant, and Ashwin with the shorter delivery forcing them to take undue risks, inducing an error. Each of the three wickets that fell during the said period was a result of the continuous pressure New Zealand had built up. Williamson was again spot-on with his captaincy, field placements, and bowling changes as India was rattled for a mere 170 runs, giving Kiwis a 139 run target in 53 overs.
It was the sunniest it had ever been throughout the 6 days, yet it wasn’t the most ideal condition to bat on. Late into Day 6, the ball still offered assistance in the air and off the pitch and a watchful start from the Indians could still put the Kiwis under pressure. Keeping it tight and controlled, Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami began exceedingly well for India, the introduction of R Ashwin post Tea on Day 6 also aided India’s cause. The veteran rallied through a gutsy spell stopping the flow of runs but also picking up the pricy wickets of Tom Latham and Devon Conway. With less than 50 on the board and two wickets down already, both teams felt the pressure of having a good next half hour. It was perhaps the most deciding phase of the game. The Indians had turned to their all-time dependable Jasprit Bumrah and Blackcaps with Williamson and Taylor at the crease had it all to play for. While Bumrah failed to keep up with the pressure and allowed a few release balls often, Kiwi batters were more patient and pounced onto Indian mistakes.
The fortune favored the brave, as Williamson survived a DRS scare by a whisker and then was given a chance from Pujara in the slips. It wasn’t too long before everyone had realized the only direction where the game headed. Once the target looked in fine sight and once the pitch had settled down in the Southampton sun, Taylor and Williamson let loose to secure a commanding win with about 8 overs to spare in the day. The heroics of Kyle Jamieson in either innings, the prowess of Southee and Wagner in support, the solidity and calmness of Williamson on the field, and the commitment from every single member of the team had given New Zealand a title, they thoroughly deserved.
India once again faltered at the ultimate huddle. In the 12 Semi-final/Final appearances that India has made across Men’s, Women’s, and U19 ICC tournaments, only once have they managed to seal the title (U19 World Cup, 2018). One could be compelled to believe that India are the modern-day ‘Chokers’ given the record, but it’d only be unfair to rate them out of competition in any of the upcoming World Cups. After all, a champion side that they are, a comeback will always remain around the corner.
While as for the first-ever World Test Champions, New Zealand, in our favorite Simon Doull’s words, “It’s a story that’s akin to David versus Goliath but Kane Williamson and his team are now World Test Champions and living proof that sometimes, just sometimes, nice guys do finish first.”