WTC Final: New Zealand’s road to Southampton

Abhishek Singh

Abhishek Singh

Author| Jun 17, 12:21 AM

PC- Twitter
PC- Twitter

India’s opposition at the World Test Championship Final is going to be New Zealand. The Blackcaps were never the favourites to make it to the final of the WTC in the face of Test supreme nations like England Australia and India. However, as they say, cricket is a game of uncertainties and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that one of the major uncertainties not just in cricket, but the entire world, called Covid-19 helped the Kiwi team. 

It certainly reduced Kane Williamson’s men’s tour to Bangladesh for the two-match Test series. But on the other hand, the Percentage of Points came into action as the points counting mechanism for WTC and Australia also pulled out of its tour to Bangladesh and South Africa, making the New Zealand qualification process a lot easier than expected. 

However, all this cannot take away from the Kiwi team the fact that they won all their home games and utilised their resources one hundred per cent to make sure they reach their ultimate destination deservingly. 

Now that they are in Southampton and it is just one more day before they finally appear in another ICC Final in England within two year’s time, it would be great to have look at their topsy turvy journey to the Rose Bowl in Southampton. 

New Zealand tour of Sri Lanka 2019

Fresh from being robbed of the elusive silverware at the World Cup 2019, not by any team or because of their own fault, but by a certain rule which has now been changed, New Zealand toured Sri Lanka in August 2019 for their first World Test championship assignment. 

In the first game at Galle, the Kiwis were drubbed by Dimuth Karunaratne’s troops at what is considered Sri Lanka’s fortress in matters of Test cricket as the Lankan team has lost just eight and drawn six games out of the 33 they played there since 1998. In both, the innings skipper Williamson couldn’t reach the double figures. In fact, hadn’t it been for Ross Taylor’s 86 in the first and BJ Watling’s 77 in the second innings, the story of the Kiwis might have ended sooner than it did. Karunaratne was Sri Lanka’s hero with a fourth innings century to help his team chase down 268. 

On other Asian tours, New Zealand might have been considered down and out after the first loss, but not on this one. The Kiwis came roaring back in the second Test at P Sara Oval in Colombo. Thanks to some inspired bowling by Tim Southee (4 wickets) and Trent Boult (3 wickets) in the first inning and an exceptional hundred by Tom Latham (154), the Kiwis were up and running. With the help of Watling’s 105, they posted 431/6 and declared their first innings. 

Behind 187 runs, the Lankans were hammered by all the Blackcaps attacking at the same time, getting all out for 122. Williamson’s men won the match by an innings and 65 runs and levelled the series. 

New Zealand tour of Australia 2019-20

After levelling the series with Sri Lanka, the Kiwis went back home and welcomed England. They defeated the gusts 1-0 in the Test series, but unfortunately, it was not a part of the WTC. Post that home victory and chuffed by it, the Kiwis travelled trans Tasmania to Australia for a three-match Test series. 

Apart from Neil Wagner’s bouncers making every Australian batsman duck in their own home, especially Steve Smith, there were no other positives to be gained from that series from the New Zealand team. They were brutally beaten in that series and even got Lockie Ferguson injured just ahead of the key India series at home. 

While they lost the first game by 296 runs in the Day/Night Test at Perth, In Melbourne they were humiliated by 247 runs. Before the final game of the series in Sydney, they had lost both Southee and Boult as well along with Ferguson. The result however didn’t change as once again a more than 200 runs defeat was handed to the Kiwi team. 

India tour of New Zealand 2020

However, that loss in Sydney against Tim Paine’s team was also the last loss for the Kiwi team in Test cricket. Team India toured New Zealand at a time when the Kiwi team was recovering from the brutal beating it received at the hands of their neighbours. In the hindsight, it would be called a blessing in disguise for the Kiwi team that the India Tests were held after the limited-overs matches of that tour. 

Having been defeated 2-3 in T20Is, with two losses coming in Super Over, the Kiwis came back in ODIs to win the series 3-0 and that actually boosted their confidence before the Test series. Also, it was during that ODI series only that Kyle Jamieson was discovered by the Kiwis as late order batsman and great swing bowler. 

In the first Test, the Indians were humbled by 10 wickets thanks to the scintillating display of swing bowling by Southee, Boult and Jamieson. While Southee picked nine in the game including a third innings five-wicket haul, Boult and Jamieson shared eight wickets among themselves.  Batting wise, both the experienced compatriots, Williamson (89) and Taylor(44) guided the ship. India couldn’t touch the 200 mark in either of the innings. 

The second Test was slightly different as India scored 242 in the first innings and held New Zealand back at 235, thanks to some inspired bowling by Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah. However, in the second innings, it was the same story all over for the Indian batting as they were bundled out for with Boult and Southee taking the majority of the scalps. Jamieson for his 49 and five-wicket haul in the first innings was adjourned Man of the Match while Southee bagged Man of the Series award. 

It was also during this very series that Kohli’s hundred making machine got a glitch and since then it has continued till now. 

West Indies tour of New Zealand 2020

Having given India a test of its own medicine, welcoming West Indies for two-match Test series as the first guests post the worldwide lockdown due to Covid-19 was an easy escape for New Zealand. The first Test at Hamilton, which began on December 3 saw one of the finest innings in this entire WTC when Williamson hit a very fine double century, his third of the career. 

On his way to 251, there were some strokes that flew out of the bat of Williamson which could only be marvelled upon.  The innings was also class apart as out of the total 519 runs that New Zealand scored, almost 50% came off the bat of Willamson. He hit 34 fours and only two sixes in the entire innings. 

The match was won by an innings and 134 runs by the Kiwis. 

For the second match of the series, Williamson opted out to be with his wife for their childbirth. Henry Nicholls decided to own that game, scoring 174 in the first innings. Once again West Indies were bundled out cheaply in the first innings in their reply to New Zealand’s 460. Even after scoring 317 in their second attempt, thanks to the fifties from Jason Holder, Joshua da Silva and John Campbell, Windies succumbed to a defeat of an innings and 12 runs. 

Pakistan tour of New Zealand 2020-21

New Zealand now had a defined target in mind when it welcomed Pakistan. They had to win the series 2-0 to keep their WTC Final hopes alive by all means. To achieve that, they bowled out the Pak team for 239 in the first innings in response to their own 431 of the first innings which included a Williamson hundred (129). 

There was resistance offred by acting skipper Mohammad Rizwan and all-rounder, Faheem Ashraf after the top order surrendered meekly, but it wasn’t as good as it should have been. In the second innings of Pakistan, Fawad Alma with his hundred tried to get things going in the favour of the guest, but eventually, it became too much to handle and in the dying minutes of the last day’s play, Mitchell Santner won it for the Blackcaps. 

The thrill of the first game was nowhere to be found in the second as in reply to Pakistan’s 297 in the first innings, the Kiwis mounted 659-6, once again courtesy a Kane Williamson double century, a Nicholls 150 plus score and this time around, even newbie Daryl Mitchell made good use of the opportunity to score his maiden Test hundred. 

Rizwan’s men were rather too meek in their reply of the total. Hardly any attempt to save the game was made with the team folding out for 186. 

New Zealand tour of England 2021

Having qualified for the WTC Final, New Zealand were offred more than just practice matches, they got a two-match Test series against a team of the quality of England to test all their strengths, having been away from Test cricket for more than six months. 

The opportunity was taken with both hands by breakaway star Devon Conway as he scored a double century on debut and that too at Lord’s to make a case for himself for entry into the Blackcaps Playing XI in the WTC Final. 

Having smelled victory, but not been able to get to it in the first Test, New Zealand didn’t try to overdo anything in search of victory. They rather pulled out most of their main players, making six changes in total to their previous XI for the second Test in Edgbaston. And amidst all the debate circling around Ollie Robinson and his controversial tweets, Matt Henry, stealthily took six wickets in the game to lead New Zealand to a historic series win. 

He was helped by Wagner and Boult in their attempt of bowling out England for 122 in the second innings. Conway was again among the runs with 80 in the first innings. Will Young too showed his class with an 83. With this series win, New Zealand also got back its number one ranking removing India from that position. 

The ultimate finale awaits

The Kiwi team has a problem of plenty, how are they going to solve it is going to be an interesting watch. Since January 6, 2020, it would now be 528 days that the Blackcaps have gone unbeaten in Test cricket and they have played eight Tests in that period. Will the loss come in the WTC Final or will the number one ranked Test side also be crowned the Word Test Champions? All shall unfold in the next six days, if not five, starting June 18. 

Stay tuned to the OneCricket app and website via your phones, tablets or laptops as we bring to you all the pre-match, in-match and post-match news along with ball by ball commentary of the game in an altogether different style. 

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