Tim Southee and Trent Boult opened the proceedings with the Dukes ball after New Zealand won the toss and chose to bowl on Day 2 of the World Test Championship Final. The Kiwis had perfect overcast conditions to exploit, but things didn't go quite right for them at the start. A few deliveries hit the right length but missed the line. A few hit the right line but missed the length. Both pacers got the ball to swing but didn't create enough doubts in the minds of Indian openers Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill. It looked like the pacers lacked the so-called rhythm and were trying too hard. As a result, Gill and Rohit ended up playing 20 overs in conditions more helpful for pacers.
Sri Lankan legend Kumar Sangakkara, watching the action from the commentary box, wondered what was going wrong with Boult and Southee. He spoke about why pacers, especially in England where conditions favour them, should go easy at the start. Settle down, find your rhythm and then take charge by exploiting the conditions, he said. It was only in those opening spells that New Zealand looked out of sorts. When Kyle Jamieson grabbed the first wicket of the WTC final, a classic away-swinger pitched fuller on a good length that found Rohit's edge, things started to fall in line for New Zealand bowlers. Jamieson provided the breakthrough by keeping it simple, trusting his skills and executing them to perfection.
The Test came to an end on the reserve day with Ross Taylor hitting the winning runs as New Zealand chased 139 runs in 45.5 overs. They were the deserving champions of the inaugural WTC final and a huge chunk of credit must go to their pacers. Jamieson, inexperienced compared to his peers in the bowling department, was named player of the match. Five wickets in the first innings and two in the second.
Before we get to Williamson and his four-pronged pace attack, it has to be said that Virat Kohli and team management's decision to stick with two spinners and three pacers was not entirely wrong. In hindsight, arguments can be made that the captain missed the trick by not playing a fourth pacer in favourable conditions. Somebody like Mohammed Siraj would've been a great help with his swing. Or, if batting was also to be considered then Shardul Thakur had a case for his inclusion in the XI. He can swing the ball both ways and he showed his ability with the bat in Australia.
But, Kohli and Shastri went with their best playing XI for an all-important final. Ravindra Jadeja has been one of the most consistent players with the bat for Team India and not to forget his ability as a fielder. There was no secrecy with regard to the conditions. It was pretty clear that the weather will remain overcast for the most part of the Test and fast bowlers will find assistance.
India named their playing XI a day before the Test and didn't change it when Day 1 was abandoned without a ball being bowled due to persistent rain. Kohli was clear in his mind; he was decisive with his playing XI irrespective of the conditions and that's always a positive sign in a captain. And to be clear, Indian bowlers, including the spinners, did not cost the Test. Batting, especially on Day 6, played a big role in the defeat.
However, to blame the batsmen for poor shots on the final day also lacks nuance. Yes, the execution of the shots from some of the reputed Indian batsmen does warrant criticism, but it was part of their plan. Conditions eased on Day 6 and batting was supposed to be easy under the sun. The objective was to play positive cricket and score runs in the second innings. There was enough time left in the Test to force a positive result for India.
With an overnight score of 64 for 2 and a lead of 32 runs, India had to go for runs in the first session of the final day. Kohli admitted as much after the defeat. "The endeavour would be to try and score runs and not worry about getting out in testing conditions. That's the way you can put the opposition under pressure otherwise you are standing there hoping that you don't get out and you are not being optimistic enough. You have to take calculated risks against a quality bowling attack like New Zealand."
India's approach can't be faulted but they came against supremely skilled New Zealand bowlers who executed their plan to the T, starting with Southee on Day 5. The way he brought the ball in with subtle changes in wrist positions was like watching an artist at work. The entire set-up acts to dismiss Gill and Rohit, bowling the outswingers and then causing troubles with the ones coming in were a testament to a man operating at the peak of his powers.
Jamieson followed it up the next day, removing Kohli for the second time in the Test and then accounted for the dismissal of Cheteshwar Pujara. Both Kohli and Pujara expected the ball to come back in but were done with the slight away movement. The beauty of the Dukes ball is that it retains the swing for many overs and that's where New Zealand pacers became dangerous.
Neil Wagner may not be your classic swing bowler but his intelligence and work rate has been causing headaches for batsmen across the world. Just look at how he dismissed Gill in the first innings and Jadeja in the second. In his first over in the first innings, Wagner removed Gill with a superb length just outside the off-stump. His previous two deliveries came back inside but the one that got rid of Gill held its line and the batsman was drawn into the push, edging it to the keeper.
On Day 6, Wagner battered Jadeja with a barrage of short-pitched deliveries but the ball that dismissed him was pitched slightly fuller angling away and Jadeja couldn't help but to go for the poke and it resulted in a nick to the keeper. Not only New Zealand had picked the right bowling attack to suit the conditions but the bowlers did their bit to take advantage of these conditions.
The Indian bowlers didn't do badly but New Zealand pacers adapted to the conditions and made it count. Maybe the fact that they had already been in England for the two-Test series worked for them. While Indian bowlers restricted the run-flow and forced New Zealand to take risks, the reverse was not true for their counterparts. Ultimately, New Zealand bowlers were better when it came to wicket-taking deliveries and that's where they won the championship.
The final was an imperfect Test, marred by rain delays but it was a great exhibition of cricket. Bossed by New Zealand bowlers and ended with Williamson lifting the mace. Deserving world champions.