On the sixth day of a five-day World Test Championship final between two exceedingly exceptional teams, Ross Taylor stylishly whipped Mohamed Shami for a boundary in the 46th over as Kane Williamson’s Black Caps chased down the target of 139 and were crowned the champions of the inaugural edition of this tournament, on what was virtually the fourth day of cricketing action in this heavily rain-interrupted match. Sounds a bit baffling and absurd, doesn’t it?
While the cricketing action in this ‘ultimate test’ was highly disrupted by the weather conditions, the awfully good quality of the cricket at display felt like the players’ manner of apologizing and compensating for the rain gods’ mistakes. The conditions remained tough for batting throughout the test, but neither of the teams put their guards down. The run rate in the first two innings of this match was just 2.25rpo – this was the slowest ever since 2013. There was a constant tussle for gaining leverage over the other, and even though the game was fairly even for the majority of the time, eventually the Kiwis proved themselves to be superior. Let’s look at why and how this was the case.
Extracting more out of the conditions
When Shane Jurgensen, New Zealand’s bowling coach, stated that the quadruple of Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Kyle Jamieson, and Neil Wagner was similar to the West Indies attack of the 80s, he was not far from the mark. Although these four might not be as physically daunting and intimidating as those Windies’ greats, they do bring extremely effective and variant skills to the table. Southee and Boult are supreme swing bowlers, Jamieson reaps huge benefits from his height, and Wagner’s intensity and aggression are relentless. And we, first hand, witnessed in this test how well these four complement each other.
The Black Caps started waywardly in conditions that were prime for swing and seam bowling. They were either too short or wide, which allowed the Indian openers to make a healthy start. But once they found the right, fuller length and after Rohit Sharma’s dismissal in the 21st over at the score of 62, Southee and co curtailed the Indians and made batting really troublesome for them.
The degree of swing that the Kiwis exhorted and which, as a consequence, allowed them to bowl a much fuller, engaging length became a deciding factor. In the first innings, their average swing was 2.17° and in the second, it was 2.12°.
A special mention to Jamieson – the Player of the Match – is warranted. He was the second fullest bowler in the game. Like the others, he made more than optimum use of the bowling conditions, swinging and seaming the ball lavishly, but it was also the extra bounce that he generated because of his high releasing point that proved disastrous for the Indian batters. The enormity of his role in the Kiwis lifting the mace was reflected in his match figures: he tirelessly bowled 46 overs, of which 22 were maidens, gave away a measly total of 61 runs, and grabbed 7 crucial wickets, including Virat Kohli’s wicket in both the innings.
In stark contrast, the Indians could extract merely 1.01° and 0.98° in the first and second innings respectively. Since the likes of Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah are predominantly seam bowlers who hit the surface hard, it was only Shami who proved to be lethal, even though both Sharma and Bumrah also bowled with great control and didn’t let the Kiwis bat freely. Shami’s success only arrived when he furthered his average bowling length. On Day 3, it was 7.48 m while on Day 5, it was 6.94 m, and it was on the fifth day that Shami took 4 wickets.
Thus, the varying skill set and having five pacers to support each other, instead of three, meant that the conditions proved more favorable for the Kiwis and they evidently extracted more joy out of them.
India rightly entered the game with their best possible playing XI with Jadeja, the ICC No. 1 Test Allrounder, as the pivot who balanced both the batting and bowling units. However, the weather conditions, which prevented the pitch from getting dry, worked against the Indians. In the backdrop of lack of match practice and proper preparations, the workload on the three pacers proved to be too much. Even though Ashwin and Jadeja (to a lesser extent) provided support, the lack of a fourth pacer was surely felt. In the second innings, when both the spinners looked more influential, it was already too late and there were not enough runs to play with.
On the other hand, the Kiwis had much better preparation coming into the game as they played a competitive, bilateral series against England. Their team balance and the privilege of having five fast-bowling options meant that there was not a moment when the Indian batters were not facing the brunt of brutal bowling. The performance of the entire New Zealand bowling unit was commendable. They were accurate, tireless, and relentless. Each time a bowler was introduced, he looked fresh and fiery.
Captain Kane and the tail wagging
India’s test specialist and bulwark, Cheteshwar Pujara, in both the innings, failed to leave his mark on the game. In tough and testing conditions, a lot depends on players like him who can spend hours on the pitch, absorb pressure, and tire the bowlers so that batters around him can negotiate the bowling and thrive. While Pujara disappointed, Williamson led his side from the front and turned into that figure for the Kiwis. He produced a batting masterclass in the first innings and gracefully demonstrated his ‘in the box’ playing technique – a technique in which the batter plays the ball as late as possible, in front of his eyes, with soft hands, so that even if he edges the ball, there are chances that it might not carry to the slip cordon. Williamson, who played the longest innings of the Test, in both minutes and balls faced, was thus able to see through the impressive Indian bowling.
Williamson’s lengthy presence allowed and guided the Kiwi pacers – who are all certainly better batters than their Indian counterparts – to capitalize on a visibly tiring bowling unit. The fact that New Zealand’s tail added 87 runs – it is pertinent to remember that these runs helped the Kiwis to take a significant lead of 32 runs – while India’s last three partnerships could add merely four runs monumentally impacted the outcome of the game.
It is evident that the Kiwis made the most of the resources available to them and the conditions of playing, but barring the final day’s play, the Indians were never outrightly outplayed. The match remained highly competitive throughout, and it was these intricacies and minute details that enabled Williamson’s team to eventually come through. Considering the unforgettable events of the 2019 ICC World Cup final, perhaps it would be only right to say that poetic justice was served in the final of this ICC event.
All stats are from cricviz.com