Two years after their heartbreak in the World Cup final at Lord’s, New Zealand returned to English soil and emerged triumphant, an eight-wicket victory over India meaning Kane Williamson’s men were crowned the inaugural world Test champions at the end of a dramatic sixth day that stirred the senses.
Gone was the miserable rain that pushed this showpiece into a reserve day, the sun smiling on Williamson as he lifted the ICC’s Test mace in Southampton. The Black Caps’ commitment to whole-hearted, ego-free cricket and a collective purpose delivered the silverware they so richly deserve.
This time there were no fluke deflections or obscure fine-print to deny them the glory, a fourth-innings target of 139 in 53 overs knocked off with seven to spare through a classy unbeaten 52 from Williamson, ice utterly running through his veins, and Ross Taylor’s typically grafted 47 not out from No 4.
Nerves still jangled during the final instalment of this low-scoring affair, never more so than when the probing Ravichandran Ashwin whipped the largely pro-India crowd into a frenzy with the removal of openers Tom Latham, stumped for nine, and Devon Conway, lbw on 19, with 95 runs still required.
And a twist might have come had Cheteshwar Pujara not bungled a regulation catch at first slip off Taylor on 18 with 55 to go, Jasprit Bumrah the bowler denied. Instead the 37-year-old shrugged off the drop, plus a nasty blow to the head from the same bowler, as he and Williamson emulated compatriot Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay with a steadfast ascent to the summit.
Virat Kohli could only look on and applaud as Taylor flicked the winning runs through the leg-side and a pocket of shirtless New Zealand supporters erupted; his is a champion team – the dominant force in Test cricket in recent years and one half of a memorable final – and should not be defined by the loss.
Ultimately India came up short with the bat during the best batting conditions of the match. New Zealand’s all-seam attack, led by their breakout star in Kyle Jamieson but with no weak link among them, had earlier skittled their opponents for 170 after lunch to set up the victory charge.
Tim Southee had set the ball rolling the night before when wiping out both Indian openers and finished with four for 48. Trent Boult also claimed two key strikes and eased the nerves of his old friend after dropping the dangerous Rishabh Pant on five at slip; the wicketkeeper holed out for a top score of 41 thanks to a sensational running catch by Henry Nicholls over his shoulder.
But it was Jamieson who sent a match seemingly destined for a draw and a shared title hurtling towards its memorable conclusion after India resumed on 64 for two and leading by 32. He knocked over Kohli and Pujara first thing – the former for the second time as he poked one behind for 13 – amid award-winning match figures of seven for 61 from 46 overs, some 22 of which were maidens.
The 6ft 8in right-armer’s emergence over the past 18 months has augmented an already well-oiled New Zealand machine, one of the pistons of which is Neil Wagner and his lung-busting commitment to the short ball.
Indeed, Wagner’s sole intervention on the final day was typically notable, India having fought back from Jamieson’s early double and Boult’s removal of Ajinkya Rahane with a strangle down leg to reach lunch five down with a lead of 98.
Summoning up a barrage of 14 successive bumpers after the break, the left-armer then pushed one up to Ravindra Jadeja, found the edge of the No 7’s bat on 16 and exposed an Indian tail that, for the second time, disintegrated. BJ Watling, the 35-year-old stalwart wicketkeeper who now heads into retirement, safely pouched this key catch despite the throbbing pain of a dislocated finger.
The huge gulf in population between the two countries – five million compared with 1.4 billion – is perhaps overplayed, but with around a sixth of India’s professional talent pool and annual revenues that sit on a par with a county cricket club such as Warwickshire, New Zealand’s rise is still remarkable.
Like Watling, Southee, Wagner, Boult et al, Williamson and Taylor have been central pillars to all this. It felt fitting, therefore, that this much-admired pair should come together for an unbroken stand of 96 and be there at the end of a long but rewarding final, one which ultimately delivered happier memories.