Kohli-Southee, Rohit-Boult Among Rivalries Brewing For WTC Final
Tim Southee has dismissed Virat Kohli ten times while Trent Boult has the upper hand over Rohit Sharma.
The inaugural edition of the World Test Championship has breathed life into the corpse of Test cricket. It is the equivalent of a revolutionary business idea that slingshots a unicorn into the billion-dollar galaxy. Dead rubbers have been dumped to the bin, and along with it the futile notion of playing for pride. The stakes are higher than ever before, and are forecast to go through the roof as India and New Zealand turn up the heat in the summit clash, the most regal advertisement of the traditional format if there ever was one.
Adding to the allure will be rivalries as hot as a furnace. Run-machine Virat Kohli will have to shed the psychological baggage of having fallen prey to Tim Southee an alarming ten times. Rohit Sharma’s bugbear against the incoming deliveries is well-documented, and Trent Boult has penned more than a few chapters of that folklore.
Kane Williamson blocks the ball right under his nose, but his famous late hands showed up a bit too late in the series opener against England as he chopped on, rather lamely, to James Anderson. The clattering of wood was music to Jasprit Bumrah’s ears. An encore of the soft dismissal could be on the cards at Southampton given his propensity to hustle batsmen with pace. What follows is a deeper dive into such skill-oriented duels that’ll make for fancy watching come the crackerjack of a tie.
Virat Kohli vs Tim Southee
Tim Southee has had batting aficionado Virat Kohli on toast. The seaming wizard has seen the back of him on ten occasions, the most by any bowler in international cricket. Thrice has Southee proved Virat’s nemesis in the red-ball wild, the latest in Christchurch last year when an in-dipper jeered at the Indian skipper’s trademark cover drive to nail him absolutely plumb. It is a bread-and-butter shot for Virat but in his eagerness to plonk a large front-foot stride and transfer his momentum forward, the pads are left exposed to the one that tails in.
If form is chosen as the yardstick, Southee holds the edge yet again. He is New Zealand’s leading wicket-taker in the WTC campaign, with 51 scalps in 10 matches. Kohli, on the other hand, averages 43.85 in the tournament and hasn’t breached the magical three figures since November 2019. He will be hungry to end the drought, and what better stage to bid goodbye to the jinx than the winner-takes-all contest around the corner.
Rohit Sharma vs Trent Boult
A heap of credit for how India’s juggernaut has stormed into the finale goes to Rohit Sharma, who has blended his trigger-happy flair with astute judgement and the holy virtue of patience to make merry in the longer format. He is India’s second-highest run-scorer in the WTC, with an admirable 1,030 runs from 11 games, including four hundreds and two fifties. Although he stares at an uphill task in warding off Trent Boult, a menace that has mastery in bringing the ball back into the right-hander and could efficiently exploit the glaring chink in Sharma’s armour.
The dashing opener has a habit of engineering marathon knocks once he brushes aside the early jitters. It is his handsome, anchoring vigils that have rendered the matches only of academic interest for the opposition camp. For instance, his double ton against South Africa at Ranchi, which handed India a bumper victory by an innings and 202 runs.
Boult too has been a force to be reckoned with in the WTC trek. The left-arm quick sits third on the wicket chart, with a tally of 34 from nine matches. With the two senior pros operating at the peak of their powers, it will be a glorious battle worth the wait.
Rishabh Pant vs Kyle Jamieson
Rishabh Pant is the elixir the frailing trainwreck of Test cricket so desperately needed. Much of the dizzying heights India have scaled in the recent past are down to his unorthodox ways and the audacious self-belief of conjuring miracles from thin air. He is a pocket dynamite who when explodes, razes the rival to dust. That he has hammered 662 runs in 18 WTC innings, comprising a century and four fifties, bears testimony to his phenomenal transition from a reckless biffer to a gold-standard Test batsman.
And he’s already served an inkling of his mood with a hundred in the intra-squad practice match. However, New Zealand have an equally potent neutralizer in their ranks in Kyle Jamieson. Standing tall at 6 feet 8 inches, the speed merchant has been a revelation for Black Caps, ever since he made his Test debut on home soil against India. A five-wicket haul to wrap up India’s first innings at a modest 242 in the second Test at Hagley Oval was a harbinger of a bright future.
His ability to hit the hard lengths and generate awkward bounce left many a stalwart in a daze as Jamieson captured 36 wickets in the WTC stint, studded with four five-fors and even a 10-wicket bounty. But Pant is no shrinking violet either. He believes in fighting fire with fire and sticks to his natural, hyper-aggressive approach that pays off more often than not. Fireworks are guaranteed when the exuberance of youth collides in a strife for supremacy.
Kane Williamson vs Jasprit Bumrah
Kane Williamson and Jasprit Bumrah are the nice guys of cricket. Yet, there’ll be little scope for exchange of pleasantries as the game’s greatest artisans come at loggerheads on the 22-yard warzone. Currently the numero uno in international rankings, Williamson is the steely spine of New Zealand’s batting anatomy. Maintaining a terrific average of 58.35, he has quietly stockpiled 817 runs from 14 innings, the most by any Kiwi batsman in the WTC.
India’s hopes will be pinned on the lean mean pace machine Bumrah to crack the tough nut that is Williamson. He bowls a heavy ball and can hurry the best of batsmen into submission courtesy of the anomalous, sling-arm action. Lethal outswingers, venomous induckers, nasty bumpers, toe-crushing yorkers, disguised off-cutters, you name it, Bumrah has it in the engine room. India would envision one of these myriad variations to get rid of dangerman Williamson come the moment of truth.
Ross Taylor vs Ravichandran Ashwin
Ross Taylor is spoken of in the same breath as veterans Stephen Fleming and John Reid in terms of his dexterous dealing with spin. There is not a shred of indecision in his footwork as he exhibits a concrete defence, flamboyant square cuts and mighty sweeps. A mere flick of a switch and he can engage his beast mode, pulverizing lofts over the infield and stepping out to whip the cherry all along the carpet.
The array of scoring avenues he is able to explore is what makes Taylor a pain to bowl at. But for Ravichandran Ashwin, who solved the puzzle of Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne in Australia, the upcoming encounter will be another challenge to try and outsmart the cream of the crop.
Drift holds the key for Ashwin in foreign territories. Plans would be in the pipeline to flummox Taylor considering the emphasis India’s premier tweaker places on video analysis and strategizing beforehand. Can the geeky genius of Ashwin dismantle New Zealand’s backbone or will normal services resume for the spin-conquering Taylor? Ageas Bowl with the answers.
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