The attention of cricket fans from all over the world is now focussed on the long awaited final of the ICC World Test Championship which is to be held from June 18 at the Rose Bowl in Southampton. The opinions of the experts seem to be divided between the chances of the two rivals India and New Zealand. It will be extremely interesting to see how the teams draw up their respective battle plans.
One expert who is eminently qualified to comment on the matter is S L Venkatapathy Raju the left arm spinner who made his Test debut against some of the legends of New Zealand cricket including Richard Hadlee and Martin Crowe. Raju had snapped up three crucial wickets in that match at Christchurch including that of Martin Crowe who at that time was rated as the world’s best batsman.
Later Raju also served as a national selector. He also has had the opportunity to witness from close quarters, the players of both countries, their attitudes and their approach to the game.
Speaking to siasat.com, Venkatapathy Raju said that the WTC final battle would definitely be a gripping and close fight. The players who would play a crucial role would be the fast bowling all rounders.
“New Zealand is a tough outfit and we should not take them lightly. They are capable of pulling off surprises and they have some very talented pacers who can exploit the conditions in England. Here let me take the example of Kyle Jamieson. He has what it takes to cause a great deal of trouble for us. His record against India is very good and besides being a wonderful bowler, he has also done well with the bat. The Kiwis always seem to play in a carefree and relaxed manner but give some very good performances,” explained Raju.
“We may sorely miss the services of Hardik Pandya. If he had been fit, he may have played a very important role. The Black caps have a slight advantage in this regard because they have experienced pacers who could perform well in England. If you remember, when we played with Roger Binny and Madan Lal and Balwinder Sandhu, we too exceeded expectations,” said Raju.
“Another advantage that our rival New Zealanders have is that in their country they do not face pressure. Cricket is just another game for them. But in India expectations are very high. We always want our team to win every tournament. This puts a lot of psychological pressure on the players,” Raju expounded.
“We also have to keep in mind that the New Zealanders will play two Test matches against England before they play against us in the WTC final. So they will have a longer time to acclimatise themselves and adjust their game to the existing conditions there. This could be the factor that may give them an edge,” said Raju.
“Kane Wiliamson and Ross Taylor are hugely experienced players and could make our progress very difficult. Martin Crowe once called Kane the best ever New Zealand batsman which is high praise indeed. As a captain too, Kane is a shrewd leader. Having played in the IPL, he knows the plus and minus points of our players and teams,” said Raju.
“This will be the first time that we will be playing a Test match at a neutral venue. For India the main benefit is that nowadays we have a great battery of fast bowlers. If all goes well, they should be able to strike it rich. As I said Hardik Pandya’s presence would have been a big plus point. But those who are there, are also capable of delivering the goods,” stated Raju.
“Our batting is very strong. Virat, Rohit, Rahane, Vihari, Mayank Agarwal and others brilliant, indeed. In fact, we have a surfeit of riches. It will be interesting to see the composition of the team and how a balance will be struck between the strength in batting and the depth in bowling. There again, the local conditions of pitch and weather will determine the decision making I suppose,” said Raju.
“We have two spin bowling all rounders in Jadeja and Ashwin. It depends upon the conditions. If conditions are dry, then these two players may do as well as they normally perform. Ashwin has shown a lot of improvement with the bat and has the determination to fight it out in difficult situations. Overall our team wears a well balanced look,” he said.
“Coming to a Hyderabad / Andhra angle, I would say that Vihari is capable of doing very well. His advantage is that he is already in Warwickshire in England and has had enough time to get used to the pitches and the weather. This could be a big advantage for him. All said and done, we can look forward to an absorbing tussle. I wish the Indian team best of luck,” concluded Raju.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects