The countdown has begun for the inaugural ICC World Test Championship (WTC) finals between India and New Zealand. In just over a month's time, the top two Test cricket teams in the world will lock horns for the title at Southampton, England, as per WTC final schedule.
Southampton's Rose Bowl has seen only one 350+ score in the 13 innings played at the venue since 2018. With both sides stacked with quality bowlers, batting will most definitely play a critical role if the finale is played on a bowler-friendly wicket.
Ahead of the all-important clash, let's look at the top-ranked batters who will be expected to play decisive roles for their respective teams.
1. Kane Williamson (New Zealand)
Age 30 | ICC Test Rank for Batting: 1 (Points: 919)
The backbone of New Zealand’s batting unit, Kane Williamson is the top-ranked batsman in Test cricket. He is expected to help the Kiwis get past the final hurdles this time after the haunting 2019 ODI World Cup final defeat against England. The Kiwis are still chasing their maiden World Cup title in any format of the game.
Williamson has racked up astronomical numbers over the past two-and-a-half years. He will further benefit from playing two Tests against England next month ahead of the big clash. However, since his debut ton against India, Williamson hasn’t really done very well against them. His Test figures in England are also far from impressive.
Williamson's good showing in County Cricket and the experience he gained there against the Duke ball should come in handy. Though he hasn't fared particularly well in England, it should be noted that the conditions in there aren't too different from the ones in New Zealand, which Williamson champions.
New Zealand’s only ICC tournament win was the Champions Trophy in 2000, where they beat India in the finals at Nairobi. Williamson, being their crisis man, will need to step up if they are to repeat history.
2. Virat Kohli (India)
Age 32 | ICC Test Rank for Batting: 5 (Points: 814)
Virat Kohli is as important to India as Kane Williamson is to New Zealand. Starting with Under-19 cricket, Kohli and Williamson have contested some memorable battles in their journey to the top over the past decade and a half.
A recent dip in Kohli’s form saw him slip three places to fifth spot in the Test batting rankings. He hasn’t scored a hundred in any format in over a year and a half, which is very unusual for his standards. However, Kohli did play some crucial knocks to bail India out of dire situations.
The Indian skipper will be banking on the excellent numbers that he registered in England during the 2018 tour (593 runs at an average of 59.3). If Kohli finds his mojo in the biggest Test match of his career, he might bring home his first ICC silverware as captain of the India squad for WTC final.
3. Rishabh Pant (India)
Age 23 | ICC Test Rank for Batting: 6 (Points: 747)
Rishabh Pant has been India’s biggest success in the 2020-21 season. From not featuring in the playing XI in the Adelaide Test to helping India create history at Brisbane, he came a long way in a month’s time.
By the time last season ended, Pant had become a certainty across all formats. He also became the captain of the Delhi Capitals in IPL 2021 and the first Indian wicketkeeper-batsman to break into the top 10 of the ICC batting rankings.
In the span of 20 Tests, Pant has played some of the finest knocks by an Indian batter in Test cricket. He scored his first Test hundred in England, an experience which should be of immense benefit.
Pant’s rise as a batsman will enable India to play both Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin as all-rounders. India’s middle-order proficiency for the big game heavily rests on Pant.
3. Rohit Sharma (India)
Age 34 | ICC Test Rank for Batting: 6 (Points: 747)
If Rohit Sharma had lived up to his full potential in Test cricket, he would have had another 5,000 runs in his tally. Regardless, his overall numbers are still impressive. But they don’t tell you the pauses, the roles he played and the frustrations his fans have endured.
Rohit, who is among the three players who share the sixth spot in the Test batting rankings, was instrumental in India’s qualification for the WTC final.
Having made his Test debut in 2013, it was only in 2019 that Rohit started opening in the format. And he hasn’t looked back since. As an opener, he has four centuries and averages over 64.
Rohit’s technique against the moving ball has been a subject of concern ever since he started playing Tests overseas. The New Zealand bowling attack relishes the seaming conditions that England presents. Rohit's real test will be against the new ball.
Catch the latest WTC final live score by clicking here.
3. Henry Nicholls (New Zealand)
Age 29 | ICC Test Rank for Batting: 6 (Points: 747)
Starting slowly in 2016, Henry Nicholls gradually grew into one of the mainstays of the New Zealand middle-order.
In the 2020-21 season, Nicholls amassed 405 runs at an average of 81 that saw him gain significant spots in the ICC Test Rankings for batsmen. Incidentally, he happens to be the third batsman tied for the sixth rank. Hence, the top eight batters in Test cricket feature three from India and two from New Zealand.
To Nicholls’ credit, he has continued his rich form in the Plunket Shield as well, getting 229 runs from three first-class games at an average of over 57. However, he has neither played red-ball cricket in England, nor done well against India.He will be a crucial Batsman for NZ squad for WTC final.
The two Tests against England prior to the WTC finals should him get acquainted with the conditions and ideally help him in the big game at Southampton.