SOORAJ SURESH | 3rd June 2021

With New Zealand playing a two-game test series against England, the Kiwis can get set to the English conditions before the most awaited contest of cricket this year- the final of the first-ever World Test Championship (WTC). Inaugurated in 2019, the top 10 ranked ICC test teams participated in this tournament, and after 2 years of intense fixtures and enthralling games, we have now arrived at the final summit.

As we twiddle our thumbs, waiting for the 18th of June to arrive, it’s essential to hark back to the road to glory, taken by the two sides in question.

Assessing India and New Zealand’s race to the finish line

India ended up topping the league, winning 5 of the 6 series they played, losing only to the Black Caps, ironically enough. India looked sublime throughout the tournament, dominating almost every opponent they met.

The Men in Blue registered a brilliant series victory on Australian soil despite being down 1-0 at the beginning of the series and went on to crush a top-quality English side at home to seal their place at the top of the WTC table.

A triumph built of being underestimated

New Zealand became the first team to qualify for the WTC finals after 3 consecutive 2-0 victories against India, West Indies, and Pakistan. Notably, the Kiwis were the only team to defeat table-toppers India in the WTC league stages, whose only loss on the road came against the mighty Aussies on away soil.

Williamson led this star-studded NZ line-up through thick and thin to ensure them a place in the competition’s first ever finals.

And as these 2 sides square off against each other, huffing and puffing their way to the 5 days that matter the most, there’s a lot on the line. And especially for 2 men.

The Stakes

Neither Kane Williamson nor Virat Kohli have managed to win a single ICC trophy over 5 years as captains. As fate goes, the pair became captains for their respective nations in 2016 and have participated in a handful of ICC tournaments.

Kane and Kohli are arguably the two greatest batsmen in the modern era. However, simply from a captaincy standpoint, glory has slipped through their fingers like holding on to a palmful of sand.

The captaincy approaches of the two greats of the game defines polar opposites.

Putting the Kohli way under the microscope

King Kohli has always been an aggressive captain as opposed to his counterpart in Williamson, who is cool as ice and maintains his calmness in clutch and iffy situations alike.

And it isn’t wise to underestimate the impact of Kohli and Williamson’s personalities because they reflect on their team’s performances massively.

Kohli’s journey as India captain has been a bittersweet experience. Even though he has been a part of a bunch of famous wins and has managed to maintain the No.1 position in the ICC test rankings constantly, his failure to see his team through in the big tournaments has always been a question mark against his name.

Being perhaps the game’s most essential cricketer, the Indian skipper has tried and failed twice in ICC tournaments when his team needed him the most in the 2017 Champions Trophy and 2019 World Cup.

Poor performances in the knockout phases of these tournaments have critics and fans whispering that Virat’s decision-making can be dubious and somewhat, absurd at times.

And it isn’t just his performances, a few decisions India has made while he was a captain have also perplexed the fans. One such instance is in the 2019 WC semi-finals against, you guessed it! New Zealand.

VK’s decision not to change Team India’s batting order and send in both Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya ahead of MS Dhoni in a crucial semi-final fixture was puzzling.

And this turned out to be a misstep by the world’s finest player decision as the inexperience of both Pant and Pandya cost India the game and the 2nd bit for Virat Kohli at ICC silverware.

When Dhoni came to the crease against the Kiwis, it was a little too late for even one of India’s biggest matchwinners

The lack of crisis management caused Kohli to not change up the batting order during a tricky situation and it certainly didn’t work out.

Another reason why Kohli hasn’t managed to get through any of these tournaments successfully is the plethora of changes the squad undergoes in his captaincy. These frequent line-up changes in the Indian side lead to a clear lack of stability.

One of the main reasons for MS Dhoni’s success as a captain is that he made as minimal changes to the squad as possible, retaining the players and trusting the process. An inexperienced Vijay Shankar and unready Dinesh Karthik being part of the 2019 World Cup is a prime example of the opposite from Kohli.

However, it’s crucial to point out that that it was mission impossible for Kohli from day 1. Taking over the reins from India’s most decorated skipper means filling massive boots of MS Dhoni and the expectations have always been sky high for Virat Kohli.

Even though Kohli isn’t considered a failure as a captain, he certainly won’t end up being a success without an ICC trophy to his name. Hopefully, a victory over New Zealand in the WTC will be a feather in the cap of the animated captain. 

Why Williamson hasn’t yet lifted a trophy

Williamson doesn’t have great success with ICC tournaments either, tasting defeat in all the 3 tournaments he has led his country towards. This is aside from the fact that Mr. Steady The Ship is still considered to be one of the best captains of the modern era.

Even though the Kiwis leader has won innumerable games with his astute tactics on the field, the history of both teams plays a key role in this critical assumption.

Williamson took over a New Zealand team that hasn’t won a single ICC tournament in the history of the game. Virat Kohli on the other hand took over a nation’s captaincy a side with 5 ICC trophies in the bank. 

Nonetheless, Williamson also has a fair share of errors to his name. DRS has become an integral part of the modern game and Williamson’s struggles with it isn’t breaking news to say the least.

He has a very poor record of overturned reviews, managing to get only below 15% of those successful. Also, the lack of aggression in his approach hasn’t given him that extra edge to push his side over the line.

Is Williamson a bit too subdued to drive his team to the next level?

Simply put, this cannot keep happening as not being able to win an ICC trophy during his captaincy stint would surely be a black mark in Williamson’s career. New Zealand boast of what is now a complete side that is very well capable of winning any tournament.

A loss in the WTC final will raise a few questions about Williamson’s place as the side’s captain as this would mark his 4th trophyless ICC tournament as captain. 

Despite the criticisms, the Black Caps talisman has always been lauded by fans and deservedly so. One cannot deny that he almost saw New Zealand through to their first-ever World Cup victory where luck wasn’t just not by his side, it seemed like it had a row with the nicest man in cricket.

To say he was unlucky is like saying the grass is green.

Final thoughts

Ultimately, Virat Kohli has 2 quality players with leadership qualities lined up behind him in the form of Rohit Sharma (limited-overs) and Ajinkya Rahane (Tests), and it will only be a matter of time before the management decides to go for a captaincy change.

While Kane Williamson’s captaincy isn’t at much risk, 4 consecutive ICC tournament losses with a strong NZ side certainly isn’t the way to go.

With both Kohli and Williamson’s reputations as captains on the line in the World Test Championship finals, the expectations are through the roof. Whichever of these 2 legends end up with silverware ultimately deserves it because whatever said and done, we have witnessed geniuses at work and long may it continue.

18th June is a day that ignites the beginning of a new name into the history books; keep your eyes and ears open.

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