Southampton’s present is about a city with its nippy air marinated in sea salts and a nostalgia that includes the Titanic which set sail in 1912, never to return. It was also the county — Hampshire — that had the West Indian great, the late Malcolm Marshall, firing his thunderbolts.
In this setting of quaint homes, undulating roads and giggling waves, the willow game’s oldest format will finally have a summit clash to formally coronate the champion. Since 1877, Test cricket has adhered to its unique rhythms but there never was a singular match that anointed one unit as the numero uno!
Eventually with the International Cricket Council (ICC) conceptualising the World Test Championship, its endeavour will find fruition when India and New Zealand walk out at the Ageas Bowl for that one ‘final’ Test commencing on Friday. England’s whimsical summer also lures in the rains and it is anybody’s guess about who will have the last laugh — Virat Kohli’s men, Kane Williamson’s dogged troops or the weather gods with their penchant for irony.
The last time the outfits clashed in England, it was the 2019 World Cup semifinal at Manchester. The slow-burn encounter stretched across two days due to the weather’s quirks and it gifted delirium to New Zealand and heartbreak to India. Since then, much has changed irrevocably in a pandemic-ravaged world while Kohli and Williamson have shepherded their men towards success and stability. Equally their vice-captains delivered be it Ajinkya Rahane in Australia or Tom Latham in Old Blighty.
New Zealand steps in fresh from its series triumph over England while for India the WTC final is also a starting block as the five-match Test series against Joe Root’s men will start on August 4. India may have missed its best personnel at different points during the Australian tour and yet it found new heroes. This common thread of resilience has also been the spine that binds New Zealand and even way back in the 1980s, it could hold its own at home against Clive Lloyd’s indomitable West Indians.
Kohli’s fire against Williamson’s ice, Rohit Sharma’s belligerence against Trent Boult’s swing or the pragmatic textures that a Cheteshwar Pujara or a Ross Taylor offer are part of the multiple threads that serve as a splendid base for a match with its reserve sixth day just incase the skies oscillate between the deep blue and the dark grey!