Under way at last in WTC final but stop-start day takes shine off special occasion

Finally, the weather relented and the WTC final, to decide the who will be crowned as undisputed champions of Test cricket, was underway after the first day had fallen foul of the capricious English June climate. Officially, therefore, beginning on Day 2, this was none the less the first day of a five-day match, thanks to the ICC’s prescience in allowing for a rain day at the end.

And fascinating, gripping stuff it was for a while to celebrate the game’s longer format. Strategy and intrigue was at play before the players had even the taken the field. India had already named their eleven to include two spinners in Ravi Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja. But with heavy weather and humidity a plenty, would they sacrifice one of them to bolster their seam-bowling resources? Not a bit of it. Both played.

New Zealand, on the other hand, having been expected to play left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel who impressed against England, elected instead to go for an all-seam attack, with both the tall Kyle Jamieson and the splendidly mulleted Colin de Grandhomme, added to the experience of Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner.

Looking to the heavens Kane Williamson won the toss and invited India to face the New Zealand quintet of pace and De Grandhomme dob.

By lunch, with the score at 69 for two, most observers agreed that it was pretty even. For a while, Williamson cut a thoughtful and frustrated figure as Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill set watchfully about their work. Rohit had reached 34 from 68 deliveries when Jamieson fired a full ball into the corridor that swung late and was thick edged to a diving Southee at third slip. India had been breached.

Four more overs had passed for the addition of just one run when Williamson turned to Wagner, who immediately obliged, finding the edge of Shubman Gill’s bat to leave India 63 for two. It really was a case of the old 1 -2 -3 from Wagner, with two inswingers followed by one slanted across the right hander and BJ Watling did the rest.

For a while, it was classic, hard-fought Test cricket – not always pretty, but always enthralling. Cheteshwar Pujara faced 36 balls without scoring before he finally slapped one through point for four and then giddy with that success doubled his tally in a similar fashion next over. However, that was to be it for him as far as scoring was concerned as Boult produced a classic left-armer’s inswinger to trap him lbw. After earnest consultation with non-striker Kohli, Pujara was on his way without review and India were 88 for three.

At the other end, though, Kohli was clearly settling in for the long haul and he was joined by vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, who showed similar resolve. Both rode their luck, one over from Southee using up most of it as he beat the bat consistently but, to the frustration of Kiwis everywhere, without success.

Sadly, soon after, the gloom gathered and umpires Michael Gough and Richard Illingworth reached for the light meters. With floodlights blazing brightly, the first time the players trooped from the field it was with some reluctance for both batsmen and fielders. Unfortunately, the precedent had been set and two restarts were all too quickly followed by two further delays, with the score having moved from 120 for three to 146 between the first and final break.

As they trooped from the field that final time, the look of thunder on Kohli’s face was darker than the skies above. He, like most of us, clearly felt that the global cricket public was being short-changed. That said, the cricket public don’t have to face Boult, Southee, Wagner and Jamieson.

Would New Zealand, who though not taking wickets were, clearly keeping a tight lid on India’s scoring, have been happy to bowl Williamson in tandem with De Grandhomme? We will never know.

A final inspection towards 6pm merely confirmed the inevitable and the day was done. One cannot help but feel that these two sides and the occasion deserve rather better. The good news is we are back tomorrow and day 3 is really only day 2.

Broadcast Schedule

India v England 2024 Test Series
IND v ENG 4th Test, Ranchi
23rd February to 27th February
Start time: 4:00 am GMT
IND v ENG 5th Test, Dharamsala
7th March to 11th March
Start time: 4:00 am GMT