The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced a 20-man list for Team India probables to face New Zealand, in the final of the inaugural ICC World Test Championship, in England. All-rounder Hardik Pandya couldn’t make the cut yet again, while left-arm spinner Kuldeep Yadav was dropped after a long stint as a glorified benchwarmer (scroll down for full squads).

 

Star all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja walks back into the squad after missing out during the Test series against England at home earlier this year; and the pace duo of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami also resume their positions in the bowling department, for the first time since featuring together in Australia last.

New Zealand had announced their 20-man squad almost exactly a month back. The unit will be trimmed down to 15 members ahead of the final on June 18, after the two preceding Tests against England. The one-off WTC decider will be contested at The Ageas Bowl in Southampton.

 

New Zealand became the first team to qualify for the final earlier this year, following series victories against India, West Indies and Pakistan, despite a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Australia. They had earlier drawn a series 1-1 in Sri Lanka, which eventually helped them claim the required percentage points to qualify for the final.

 

 

India’s road to the WTC final wasn’t a bed of roses either. Their series defeat against New Zealand last year left them a mountain to climb against formidable Australian and English oppositions. They staged a heroic comeback in the absence of several key players Down Under, and then defeated England at home after losing the first Test yet again.

With both squads now officially declared, we take a look at how the Indian and Kiwi teams compare on paper, to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of each team.

Batting

Team India’s top-order features Rohit Sharma and Shubhman Gill as primary openers, with Mayank Agarwal and KL Rahul (subject to fitness) as reserves. Only Rohit has looked in touch during the last few Test matches, as the team continues to seek good starts up the order. Cheteshwar Pujara has been reliable as the sheet anchor at number three, but hasn’t had a consistent string of big scores recently, as per his lofty standards.

The Kiwi opening combination, on the other hand, has comprised Tom Latham and Tom Blundell in recent series. The former has had a solid run of 50-plus scores in Test cricket while the latter is also coming off red-hot domestic form. He recently scored hundreds in back-to-back first-class games for Wellington and will pose a challenge for the Indian seamers, against the new ball.

Kane Williamson had mounted massive scores at one-down in recent WTC Tests, including a 251 at Hamilton against West Indies. He could yet again be the telling difference between the two top-orders. Will Young and the uncapped limited-overs specialist Devon Conway provide ample cover on the bench, as New Zealand look the stronger side here.

The Indian middle-order boasts a strong overseas record, in large thanks to skipper Virat Kohli and his deputy Ajinkya Rahane. The duo will once again be needed by their team if they are to mount a serious challenge for the championship. Ross Taylor and Henry Nicholls will look to continue their good forms for the Kiwi middle-order, as both teams look evenly-matched here.

If India decides to play an extra bowler, the lower-order could miss Hanuma Vihari’s services. Currently ranked as the best wicketkeeper-batsman in Test cricket, Rishabh Pant though will lead the charge in this department on the back of his recent successes with both bat and gloves. His counterpart BJ Watling is also an able gloveman and batter, but Pant just edged him with that X-factor.

Both teams will bat deep with all-rounders Jadeja, R Ashwin, Washington Sundar, Axar Patel and Shardul Thakur all vying for those spots in the tail, while Mitchel Santner, Kyle Jamieson, and the uncapped Rachin Ravindra and Jacob Duffy offer multiple options to the Kiwis. Team India again has the advantage here as well, with more proven match-winners down the order.

Bowling

The New Zealand bowling coach Shane Jurgensen had recently compared the pace battery of Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner and Kyle Jamieson to the famous West Indian pacers of the bygone era. It might be a bit of an exaggeration, but the Kiwi seemers are all ranked among the top 20 bowlers in the world currently. They would be licking their lips at the prospect of playing on English soil against an Indian batting lineup that can be susceptible in those conditions.

The Indian pace department too looks stronger after the returns of Bumrah and Shami. Along with Ishant Sharma, the trio has been responsible for elevating India’s fast bowling standards across both home and overseas conditions. All three of them also feature in the top 20 current Test bowlers of the world, and are ably backed up by squad depth in the form of Mohammad Siraj and Umesh Yadav. It should be an even match here, maybe slightly in favour of NZ due to the two extra matches that they will have played against England in these conditions.

All eyes in the spin department will be on the world’s top-ranked spinner Ravi Ashwin. He had a memorable 2020/21 season with both ball and bat. He will hope to be one of the first names on the team sheet and would be expected to exploit any kind of turn or bounce that the pitch might have to offer. Depending on who might be selected, he can expect equal assistance from Jadeja or Axar.

The Kiwis will rely on Santner and the uncapped Ajaz Patel, if they decide to play a spinner, or two. Maybe uncapped all-rounder Rachin Ravindra could also make a surprise appearance if the England series goes well for him. Doubtlessly though, Team India looks much sturdier in this department.

India Squad: Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wk), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Washington Sundar, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, Umesh Yadav; KL Rahul (subject to fitness clearance), Wriddhiman Saha (wk, subject to fitness clearance). Standby players: Abhimanyu Easwaran, Prasidh Krishna, Avesh Khan, Arzan Nagwaswalla

New Zealand Squad: Kane Williamson (c), Rachin Ravindra, Devon Conway, Jacob Duffy, Tom Blundell, Ross Taylor, BJ Watling (wk), Tom Latham, Daryll Mitchell, Henry Nicholls, Colin de Grandhomme, Neil Wagner, Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Mitchell Santner, Ajaz Patel, Doug Bracewell, Jacob Duffy, Matt Henry, Kyle Jamieson, Will Young

Image source: Twitter/BCCI, Instagram/BlackCaps