The eagerly-awaited ICC World Test Championship Final got underway on Saturday after the opening day was washed out due to rain.
While India stuck with the same playing XI they announced two days which included three pace bowlers and two spinners, New Zealand went in with an all-seam attack in four frontline fast bowlers and a medium pace all-rounder, while leaving out the spinner.
Things worked out to plan for New Zealand as Captain Kane Williamson won the toss and elected to bowl on an overcast day at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton.
Normally, one would expect the Indian batting line-up to collapse in these conditions. But Openers Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill thwarted New Zealand’s plans with a gutsy batting display in tough conditions.
And consider this — Rohit was playing only his second Test in England, while young Gill had never played before a Test before in England.
New Zealand’s opening pace duo of Tim Southee and Trent Boult struggled to find their rhythm with the new ball. They were guilty of trying for too much early as they bowled either too full or too straight.
Rohit brought all his experience into play as he played very close to his body and avoided chasing anything wide, while Gill batted out of his crease to negate the early swing as the two openers did well to play out the new ball without much of a fuss.
Gill also made a statement early on, with a couple of thumping pull shots off the pacers and Rohit made the bowlers pay for their lapses with some crispy boundaries through the off-side.
Not only were New Zealand unable to make the new ball count, but India’s openers scored at a good rate to take their team past the 50-run mark in the 18th over.
If India had lost a few early wickets, it would have exposed the middle order against the new ball, but Rohit and Gill kept the Kiwis at bay with their show of defiance.
India were well placed on 62 for no loss in 20 overs before Kyle Jamieson brought the Kiwis some relief with the wicket of Rohit, caught at second slip for 34.
A few overs later, Gill joined his opening partner in the dressing room when he was caught behind for 28.
It was clear that the openers had laid a strong foundation for the team despite having the worse of the conditions.
In the process, they gave ample proof of why this Indian Test team is rated as the best in the world at the moment with their never-say-die attitude, which they showed in Australia earlier this year to clinch the Test series Down Under despite missing lot of their key players.
Captain Virat Kohli made sure that the openers’ good work was not undone as he battled hard for 44 not out from 124 balls, while Ajinkya Rahane was unbeaten on 29 when play was called off early due to bad light with India on 146/3 in 64.4 overs.
As Batting Coach Vikram Rathour said at the end of play, a target of ‘250-plus will be a reasonable score in these conditions’ and India certainly look on course to achieve it.
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