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Match Preview – India vs New Zealand, ICC World Test Championship 2019-2021, Final

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Imagine that the guardians of Test cricket, in a bid to assess the future health of the grand old game, dispatch a delegate from its golden age through time and space to watch the inaugural World Test Championship final of 2021.

You can take your pick as to when that golden era might exactly have been, but whatever their year of origin, any time-traveller alighting on Southampton this week might assume Test cricket was in a pretty moribund state. Here, after all, is the sport’s brand-new showpiece occasion, more than a decade in the making after endless false starts – ones that screamed, more than anything else, of a fundamental lack of faith in the product.

And instead of taking its rightful place at Lord’s, Eden Gardens or the MCG, the contest has been shunted out to a souped-up service station on the lesser-travelled east-bound carriageway of the M27, where for the next five days (or six) India and New Zealand are braced for weather as torrential as the abuse that the WTC format has attracted in the past two years – not least from the new ICC chairman, Greg Barclay, who declared on the day of his investiture last autumn that it was “not fit for purpose”.

A maximum of 4000 people a day will be permitted to witness the spectacle – 25% capacity, in keeping with the UK’s current lockdown restrictions. That figure might have been more come day four, and the government’s so-called Freedom Day of June 21, but that date is a can that has been kicked on down the road for another day.

So there’s a fair amount conspiring to dampen the mood, you might say.

There is, however, an alternative narrative, one that, with an iota of heft from those who profess to love and nurture the sport, could be resonating high above this current air of mild apathy.

The WTC final will be taking place in spite of a once-in-a-generation global pandemic at the now-famous Ageas Bowl, cricket’s original bio-secure venue, the existence of which unequivocally saved the ECB’s bacon in the summer of 2020, and showed the wider cricketing world how to ensure that the show can go on in these times.

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