World Test Championship final: weather a big factor as India and New Zealand fight for red-ball crown

Virat Kohli picks two spinners and three seamers for Southampton match

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Test matches have traditionally enjoyed a gradual build-up, with a multitude of storylines and match-ups playing themselves out over subsequent weeks.

But not this time. The World Test Championship final between India and New Zealand, which begins on Friday in Southampton, has one aim – to find the champion team of red-ball cricket.

The ICC's attempt to provide context to bilateral Test matches and have a one-off battle for the big prize has brought the top two ranked teams in the world to the UK. That's a good idea but the weather seems to have different ideas.

The forecast for Southampton over the next few days does not fill the heart with hope. Rain is expected to affect play on the first day of the final with showers likely throughout the match. There is a reserve day in case any lost overs are not accounted for in the allotted five days.

The inclement weather has titled the scales in favour of Kane Williamson's Black Caps, who enter the match still on a high following a historic Test series win over England.

New Zealand – the 2019 World Cup finalists and 2-0 victors over India in their last Test series at home – are the top-ranked teams in 50-over and Test formats. Add to it the fact they just concluded a two-match series and are more suited to cricket in overcast conditions, and New Zealand look highly likely to lift the Test mace and $1.6 million prize.

The Black Caps' pace battery of Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner and Matt Henry is perfect combination of experience and precision, complementing a solid batting line-up that Williamson, Ross Taylor, Tom Latham and bolstered by the emergence of Devon Conway.

Kohli, however, has one thing going for him – a world-class line-up, even if they are short of match practice following the suspension of IPL in early May.

India have decided to go with three fast pacers and two specialist spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.

Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami lead the pace attack, which presents the best opportunity, at least on paper, for Kohli to lift his first ICC trophy as captain. Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Rishabh Pant were announced as part of the playing XI for India, with the Kiwis keeping their cards close to their chest given the weather forecast.

With so much riding on the one-off match, Kohli chose to downplay the significance of victory or defeat in a stand-alone clash.

"If you're talking about Test cricket and deciding who is the best team in the world on one game over a period of five days, that is not the reality of the truth," Kohli said.

"It is not going to reflect anything for people who really understand the game and who know exactly what has gone on over the last four or five years and how the teams have fared.

"If you win this game, cricket does not stop for us. If you lose this game, cricket does not stop for us. Our processes and mindset is what matters most to us. We are striving for excellence every day."

His counterpart Williamson, who declared himself fit after resting an elbow injury for last week's victory over England, was more upbeat. He is, after all, desperate to make up for the heartbreak in the 2019 World Cup final.

"We are playing the best team in the world. It's a really exciting occasion," he said.

"It's incredible. I suppose you have both teams coming to a neutral venue, it's unique, an exciting occasion that both teams are looking forward to starting.

"It's a one-off and in cricket anything can happen. It will be widely followed and fans from more than just New Zealand and India are excited to watch it unfold. We're just fortunate to be involved in it."