Extra time proved decisive in the World Test Championship yesterday as New Zealand’s outstanding seam and swing attack inspired a dramatic victory over India.
The inaugural final, which threatened to peter out into anti-climax after five frustrating days, burst into life on the reserve day brought in to save this soggy showpiece.
And the first six-day Test in England since 1975 belonged to the perennial bridesmaids of New Zealand, with India collapsing in an English-style heap.
Not that what became a chase of 139 in 53 overs was easy for New Zealand. It looked as if there might be a last twist in the tale when Ravichandran Ashwin dismissed both openers in Tom Latham and Devon Conway with 44 on the board.
But with New Zealand’s nerves starting to jangle an old campaigner in 37-year-old Ross Taylor stepped up with captain Kane Williamson to add a battling match-winning unbroken stand of 96 that earned their side the first prize of £1.2million and winners’ mace.
It could have been even more tense. Williamson was given out lbw sweeping Ashwin on just one but DRS showed the best umpire in the world in Michael Gough had made a rare mistake and the ball was missing leg-stump.
Then India’s final chance was dropped, agonisingly, by Cheteshwar Pujara when he spilled a straight-forward slip catch to reprieve Taylor off Jasprit Bumrah on 26.
Yet New Zealand were worthy winners of a high-quality contest. They have long made the very most of limited resources and now a nation of five million people were triumphant against the biggest, richest and most powerful cricket country in the world.
This is the best Test side in New Zealand’s history and how they have proved it by thrashing England at Edgbaston and then upsetting the might of India in little more than a fortnight. And they did it yesterday in a gripping, fabulous advertisement for the old format.
The odds had been heavily on a draw after two whole days were lost to rain while tardy over-rates and another kerfuffle over bad light cast a further cloud over an ICC innovation attempting to bring context to the ultimate form of the game.
The sun finally came out in Southampton and conditions eased for an India side who just had to bat sensibly for two sessions to guarantee a draw and share of the prize money.
But, faced with New Zealand’s world-class four-pronged pace attack, India displayed a fragility that might give England hope for the marquee five-Test series to come.
Much depended on the brooding figure of Virat Kohli, who had insisted before a final that represents the culmination of two years Test cricket he did not need a one-off game to prove India were the best in the world.
But perhaps his apparent indifference for the occasion spread to the pitch as Kohli was again undone by the man he insisted his IPL side Bangalore bought in Kyle Jamieson.
The Auckland giant, again mightily impressive, had Kohli caught behind pushing hesitantly outside off-stump and then added Pujara in a spell of two for six in seven probing overs that set the tone for the final day.
Yet India contributed significantly to their own demise, not least the young star of the most cricket-mad country in the world in Rishabh Pant.
Pant is one of the most dynamic and exciting batsmen in the game but he treads a fine line in Test cricket between innovative aggression and outright recklessness and here he was irresponsible when his country needed him most.
He had been given a life, too, when Tim Southee dropped a slip chance off Jamieson when Pant had made five but he did not learn from his slice of good fortune.
Pant got away with a couple of wild heaves and even attempted a T20-style ramp off Neil Wagner before aiming one slog too many at Trent Boult and falling to an outstanding catch from Henry Nicholls running back from gully.
With him went any hope Kohli had of setting New Zealand an unreachable target, with the bowling old firm of Boult and Southee combining for seven wickets as India crashed to 170 all out.
It was not quite enough. Taylor, who now has the perfect opportunity to retire on an ultimate high, and Williamson applied themselves diligently before starting to wear India down, the veteran taking a nasty blow on the helmet from Bumrah.
It did not stop him completing the job with seven overs to go and a New Zealand side who have lost the last two 50-over World Cup finals, the latter to England two years ago ‘by the barest of all margins’, went one better to claim the first Test crown.
What a triumph that is for them and what vindication this was for the ICC in finally introducing a concept that has been a long time in the making and was almost de-railed by Covid and the final’s switch from Lord’s to the more bio-secure Ageas Bowl.
The World Test Championship is not perfect and may need tweaking. But Wednesday showed it deserves to be here to stay. – Dailymail.