New Zealand’s progression to the marquee inaugural World Test Championship final scheduled for June in Southampton may not be as widely celebrated as India’s, but it is nothing short of inspirational and is the best possible advert for the merits of the league’s concept.
In fetching 420 points from their 5 series that were possible in the pandemic effected cycle and finishing second on the rejigged nine-team points table, the Black Caps once again did so much more out of their limited resources.
Despite a not-so-great talent pool, the fact that New Zealand could reach this far in the World Test Championship and start off as slight favourites for the final in English conditions, should push the likes of Pakistan, South Africa and even Sri Lanka, West Indies to dream big in the league’s future cycles.
During their campaign, New Zealand defeated India, Pakistan and West Indies at home and drew in Sri Lanka, with the only blip being the loss in Australia. Kane Williamson’s men performed at their level best and retained a very strong outlook, especially in familiar conditions at home.
They now only have one last hurdle in their way of lifting Test cricket’s biggest crown. But before getting there, Williamson and company will have to finalise their squad and the playing XI for the ultimate clash with India. With New Zealand’s squad-depth being better than ever, that isn’t going to be an easy task for the team management and the selectors.
And so, in the meantime, we thought of trying to enlist a set of players who could potentially make New Zealand’s playing XI for the high-profile India encounter.
Probable New Zealand XI for the World Test Championship final
1. Tom Latham
Latham, New Zealand’s first-choice opening batter and vice-captain, has been integral to Kiwis’ surge to the World Test Championship final. The determined left-hand batsman has made 680 runs from 11 Tests in the league so far at an average of 40.00, with his tally including five half-centuries and a solitary hundred. The Black Caps will depend a lot on Latham to provide them solid starts against India.
2. Tom Blundell
New Zealand have trialled quite a few options for the second opener’s slot in the last 3-4 years, but only Blundell has emerged as the more consistent performer and is likely to make the WTC final. The aggressive right-hand batsman, who has made 402 runs from his 8 Tests in Black Caps’ campaign through the league, can put the Indian attack under pressure at the beginning if he gets going and provide New Zealand momentum.
3. Kane Williamson
Captain Williamson is at the top of the run-charts for New Zealand in the cycle with 817 runs from 9 Tests at an average of 58.35, including three centuries. Williamson absolutely dominated with the bat during the last home season against West Indies and Pakistan and will be extremely crucial to Kiwis’ chances in Southampton. He will be hoping to lead from the front versus an attack, which is India’s best in Test cricket history.
4. Ross Taylor
In the twilight of his career, Taylor’s Test match game has seen a decline, with him scoring only 469 runs at 31.26 from his 17 innings in the Test championship cycle so far. Taylor has also been an injury concern in recent months. But New Zealand are expected to still back their most experienced player given the magnitude of the occasion and the pressure that comes with it. A strong performance against India will add to the legacy of New Zealand’s highest run-maker in Test history.
5. Henry Nicholls
Nicholls’ journey from a promising left-hand batsman to their most dependable middle-order cog has been magnificent. It reflects the pink of the health the system in New Zealand is currently enjoying. Nicholls contributed 585 runs from his 10 Tests at an average of 41.78 in taking New Zealand to the WTC final. He has made two centuries in the league so far and will be eyeing another big score when he faces up against India.
6. BJ Watling (wk)
Watling will enter the WTC final against India as one of the best contemporary wicketkeeper-batsmen in the world. The dependable right-hand batsman and super-efficient gloveman has been a consistent contributor to New Zealand’s cause. He has now made 3,773 runs in his longstanding Test career at an average of 38.11. Watling has a tendency to make vital runs lower down the order and in English conditions, his glovework will also give the Kiwis an edge.
7. Colin de Grandhomme
If he is fit, Colin de Grandhomme is expected to get the nod for the all-rounder’s position in New Zealand’s WTC XI. De Grandomme hasn’t been available for most of the latter half of the Black Caps’ campaign but it shows the value he brings, that the selectors and the management have been quite open to have him back playing as soon as available. At his best, De Grandhomme can blaze his willow for some quick and crucial runs lower down the order and also complete New Zealand’s potent attack, with his ability to swing the ball and produce useful breakthroughs.
8. Kyle Jamieson
Jamieson has been fantastic with the bat and the ball for New Zealand since making his debut in the Test whites a couple of years ago. The tall right-arm paceman has taken 36 wickets from his 6 Tests for New Zealand in the cycle at a stellar average of just 13.27. He has also made vital lower-order runs and is averaging 56.50 after six innings. Given the impact he has had, Jamieson is another automatic entry into New Zealand’s WTC XI.
9. Neil Wagner
An incredible case study of his own at the Test level, Wagner has been outstanding for New Zealand with his unique methods of countering the opposition batsmen. Wagner doesn’t allow batsmen to breathe comfortably by bowling hard lines and lengths through his spells with unwavering accuracy. He has taken 219 wickets from his 51 Tests for the Black Caps at an average of 26.32, with 32 scalps at 22.50 runs per piece in the ongoing WTC cycle.
10. Tim Southee
Experienced paceman Southee ended the league round of the Test championship with the tag of New Zealand’s highest wicket-taker. He has taken 51 wickets from 10 Tests at an average of 20.66, including three five-fers, in the competition so far. Southee could prove extremely dangerous for Indian batsmen if the track at the Ageas Bowl offers some seam movement to go with the prodigious swing available naturally in English conditions with the dukes ball.
11. Trent Boult
Talking of swing and the dukes ball, perhaps the most lethal exponent of conventional swing bowling on show from either side will be Trent Boult. If Boult is his element, he can run through the Indian batting line-up in the first half-hour and make it a no-contest for the rest of the Test match. Boult has taken 34 wickets from 9 Tests at an average of 29.29 in the WTC cycle so far and will be raring to perform as he returns to English conditions.