The inaugural ICC World Test Championship (WTC) final between India and New Zealand starts on June 18 at The Rose Bowl in Southampton. The wickets at the venue have provided reasonable assistance to bowlers, with pacers and spinners playing vital roles.
Pacer James Anderson and off-spinner Moeen Ali lead the wickets charts at the venue with 26 wickets at 21.61 and 17 wickets at 15.47 respectively.
Both India and New Zealand have strong bowling line-ups. To India’s advantage, they have Test cricket experience at this venue and possess a better mix of pace-spin combos. Meanwhile, New Zealand have a four-pronged pace attack, which is more suited to the English seaming conditions.
With just over a month to go for the mega match, let’s look at the five top-ranked bowlers expected to play the Test.
1. Ravichandran Ashwin (India)
Age 34 | ICC Test Rank for Bowling: 2 (Points: 850)
Ravichandran Ashwin looks like an improved bowler with every outing. The world’s premier spinner had a spectacular 2020-21 season where he claimed 44 wickets from seven Tests at an average of 18.56. To his credit, he has dismissed New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson five times in Tests.
Extremely successful against left-handers, Ashwin will also relish the opportunity to bowl at Tom Latham and Henry Nicholls.
The 34-year-old will also be looking to redeem himself from the horrors of the 2018 Southampton Test where he played through injury and wasn’t effective, while Moeen Ali spun England to a win. With County Cricket experience under his kitty, Ashwin promises to remain a severe threat to the Kiwis.
2. Neil Wagner (New Zealand)
Age 35 | ICC Test Rank for Bowling: 3 (Points: 825)
Often overshadowed by the towering presence of Trent Boult and Tim Southee, Neil Wagner's tenacious attitude has helped him emerge as one of the leading red-ball bowlers in Test cricket.
The 35-year-old doesn’t rely on conditions to pick wickets and therefore adds the needed variety to the swing bowlers. He had a good home season (13 wickets from three Tests at an average of 22) that was halted by an injury.
A two-Test series against England will act as good practice for Wagner ahead of the big Test. His experience in County Cricket will come in handy too.
3. Tim Southee (New Zealand)
Age 32 | ICC Test Rank for Bowling: 6 (Points: 811)
For 13 long years, Tim Southee has been a fixture on the New Zealand side, and it's one of the reasons behind the side’s rise as a consistent unit. With 591 wickets across formats, he’s only behind Daniel Vettori (696 wickets) as the Blackcaps’ highest wicket-taker.
Southee’s strength lies in his adaptability across conditions. His ability to swing the ball away from the batsman will set up a good contest against Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane. The Kiwi pacer has dismissed Rahane four times in four Tests.
4. Jasprit Bumrah (India)
Age 27 | ICC Test Rank for Bowling: 11 (Points: 739)
Jasprit Bumrah’s rise as the leader of the Indian pace attack has been fascinating. Entering the national team as a limited-overs specialist, Bumrah was fast-tracked into the Test side for the 2018 South Africa tour. He showed little nerves on the big stage and found equal comfort with the red ball. His peculiar action and the release point makes it difficult for the batsmen to pick him.
Bumrah has been pivotal to India’s good shows in their overseas Test wins in South Africa, England, Australia and the West Indies. He was impressive with the Duke ball in England during the 2018 tour.
However, he wasn't at his best during the New Zealand tour last year and will be eyeing to make amends for the same.
When on a song, Bumrah can run through a line-up in no time. Come the WTC final, India will expect the same from their premier pacer.
5. Trent Boult (New Zealand)
Age 31 | ICC Test Rank for Bowling: 13 (Points: 718)
Trent Boult is New Zealand’s best bowler across formats. His strength lies in moving the ball both ways. Be it with the red ball or the white; he has troubled India enough. Over the past year-and-a-half, his bowling partners Wagner, Southee and Kyle Jamieson have done better in Test cricket but never count out Boult before a big match.
The English conditions suit his style of swing bowling, and he has good numbers to boast in the island nation.
Boult’s contest against his Mumbai Indians’ (MI) skipper Rohit Sharma with the new ball will go on to swing the Test’s momentum. Early in his innings, Sharma's discomfort against angled-in deliveries from left-armers is well-known and the Kiwi will be eyeing to exploit that. He will also be up against Bumrah - his MI partner-in-crime – with both leading their respective pace attacks.