New Zealand captain Williamson ‘excited’ by chance to be first world Test champions

New Zealand captain Kane Williamson ‘excited’ by chance to be crowned the first world Test champions, but India skipper Virat Kohli says Ageas Bowl final is just another match

  • Inaugural World Test Championship final begins at the Ageas Bowl on Friday
  • New Zealand reclaimed top spot in Test rankings by beating England last week
  • The Kiwis will seek redemption for the World Cup final defeat at Lord’s in 2019
  • Virat Kohli’s India will have to overcome an uninspiring recent record in England 

It is two years since New Zealand’s last crack at a global final ended in the sort of heartbreak that might have finished a lesser team.

Yet the ICC’s determination to add context to the longest form of the game has given them a crack at redemption. Defeat mighty India over the next few days at the Ageas Bowl, and Kane Williamson’s side will be cricket’s first world Test champions.

There will be no super over this time, as there was against England at Lord’s on that unforgettable day in July 2019, and no boundary countback. The game is unlikely to be settled by a last-ball run-out.

New Zealand captain Kane Williamson takes part in a net session after being passed fir for final


India: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (capt), Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wkt), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah.

New Zealand (probable): Tom Latham, Devon Conway, Kane Williamson (capt), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling (wkt), Colin de Grandhomme, Tim Southee, Kyle Jamieson, Ajaz Patel, Trent Boult.

Forecast: Some rain expected every day.

But there may be rain, and an extra day is available if needed – the first time six days has been set aside for a Test match since Australia hosted a World XI at Sydney in October 2005, and won in three and a half. 

If a sixth day is not enough – and the forecast for Southampton is grim – then the trophy will be shared.

For the outright winners, though, an instant place in history beckons. To judge by Thursday’s press conferences, New Zealand seemed more enthused by the prospect than India.

‘We’re playing the best team in the world,’ said Williamson, ignoring the fact that his side’s win at Edgbaston last week took them back to the top of the Test rankings ahead of India. ‘It’s a really exciting occasion for me.’

But while New Zealand cricket captains have long embraced the role of underdogs – the natural habitat of a rugby-obsessed nation of fewer than five million – Virat Kohli has spent a career managing the expectations of 1.4 billion Indians.

‘If you’re talking about Test cricket and deciding who is the best team in the world on one game over a period of five days, that is not the reality of the truth,’ he said, as ICC operatives no doubt winced.

Williamson shows off his football skills during a light kick-a-bout with team-mates on Tuesday

Williamson shows off his football skills during a light kick-a-bout with team-mates on Tuesday

‘It is not going to reflect anything for people who really understand the game and who know exactly what has gone on over the last four or five years and how the teams have fared.’

Kohli did praise the extent to which the World Test Championship has encouraged captains to risk victory and earn points. 

But he knows India are being pitched straight in against a team with two Tests’ acclimatisation behind them. The instinct to get his excuses in early may prove sound.

Perhaps the most fascinating battle will be between New Zealand’s bowlers and India’s batsmen. 

The last time the sides met in Tests, at Wellington and Christchurch shortly before the pandemic in February 2020, India were skittled for 165, 191, 242 and 124, with the home seamers running riot.

Virat Kohli's India will have to overcome an uninspiring recent record in England to win it all

Virat Kohli’s India will have to overcome an uninspiring recent record in England to win it all

Tim Southee took 14 wickets at 12, Kyle Jamieson nine at 16, and Trent Boult 11 at 19. 

Along with all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme and slow left-armer spinner Ajaz Patel, that trio are likely to squeeze out left-arm quick Neil Wagner, which says plenty about New Zealand’s depth.

India have at least got on the front foot by naming their XI in advance, including the outrageously talented wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant at No 6, and two spinners in Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin.

They will, though, have to overcome not just the tenacity and talent of the New Zealanders, but an uninspiring recent record in England. 

Their last three Test series here have produced 11 defeats and just two victories, as their batsmen have wrestled with swing and seam. Their opponents may be different this time, but the challenge is as stark as ever.