India will clash with New Zealand in the final of the World Test Championship starting in Southampton from tomorrow - the 18th of June. Former New Zealand fast bowler and the spearhead of their attack from the late 1980s to late 1990s, Danny Morrison spoke exclusively to Cricketnext about his thoughts on the mega encounter, favourites, the threat in the Indian batting order and how New Zealand cricket has evolved over the years.
What are your first thoughts on the World Test Championship final?
Ohh, the first thought is of blessing. That it is happening. I think you need to count your blessings as crowds are coming back. It’s going to be a good spectacle.
New Zealand has historically been the quintessential underdogs. Maybe, for the first time they are not going into a major final as underdogs?
We are a population of just five million people and rugby is the number one sport in our country. Yes, you are making a valid point. This New Zealand Test side is going great at this time and they are not so much underdogs. In fact, they rather fancy their chances in the final in conditions which are climatically similar to their own country.
However, India is a powerhouse and they have been a very good side both at home and away in recent years. Yes, the conditions in England are more suitable for New Zealand’s bowling attack but India also has a very fine attack so they tick a lot of boxes. Having said that New Zealand tend to play a lot more on greener pitches in home conditions. Yes, I don’t count Kane Williamson’s team as underdogs. They are on equal footing and both sides have an equal chance of winning this final because of the overall make- up of the teams. Also, the experiences of the both teams are quite similar in Test cricket.
Is this the greatest Test team in the history of New Zealand?
(Laughs) It is very difficult to compare the eras. Look at the Indian sides of the early century which defeated Australia in 2001 - a very powerful Aussies side then but the game has moved on in the last twenty years. We had some of the great Test sides when Richard Hadlee, Martin Crowe, Ian Smith, Ewen Chatfield and others were playing. This (current team) has to be there as one of the great sides of all time especially because of the arsenal they have in bowling. The game has changed a lot because of white ball cricket. It’s faster and more aggressive. Cricket has evolved so quickly, it is hard to compare different eras.
So, tell us what has really changed for New Zealand cricket?
I really do think that Indian cricket has helped. Give kudos to the IPL. It allows different players from other national teams to share dressing rooms, impart and share knowledge. The overseas senior guys are helping young Indian players and the same is happening the other way round. The advent of the IPL and some other franchises cricket where the New Zealanders play in overseas conditions has helped our cricket immensely.
Trent Boult and Tim Southee are fine swing bowlers but IPL stints have also helped their cricket. Now, you have a big giant like Kyle Jamieson and look at the confidence he would have got from playing at the RCB. Look at how Brendon McCullum who became more explosive and confident. That’s a big gain for New Zealand since they got the feeling that as a group we can compete and take on anyone and they do that especially in home conditions.
Despite an apparent lack of resources in terms of domestic players, how do they have always somehow managed to find good captains?
Martin Crowe stood out as a super star player. Stephan Fleming was outstanding but he underachieved and should have got more hundreds since he was a much better player than his record suggests. However, as captain, he was always one step ahead of the game. Clearly, the best among them. Standing at first slip, he would pre-meditate and was always pro active than reactionary. McCullum was another flamboyant and aggressive but a very humble and natural captain. Same is the case with Williamson who works on his game with precision. The captaincy thing is very important for him.
I also feel it is also about the cycles coming up and down. Sometimes, a lot of good players come in a group as it happened with the Indians during the 2011 ODI World Cup. These sort of guys coming collectively at the same time for New Zealand is great as they have got a good collection of players for different positions. They have also been lucky with injuries because earlier we have had Dion Nash, Simon Doull, Gavin Larsen, Chris Cairns and many fine bowlers but they all were injured at one point or the other. But these groups of bowlers have stayed together.
Do you think that Virat Kohli is missing something in his CV which is a big trophy?
Like Sachin Tendulkar , Virat is right up there as he is so hungry and passionate. Being the captain in all three formats for the country and then the duty of the IPL all the time is not easy. We can sermonize but it’s not a judgment call for me. He is so intense but this WTC final is a two horse race and Kohli has got a great opportunity for him to lift a global trophy.
Can this Kiwi side match the Indian team man to man?
You remember the World Cup 2019 semi final in Manchester? The much hailed Indian batting line up went boom boom in seconds! If the bowlers can find their mojo, anything can happen in just a few overs. Man for man they are a match for the Indian side. All you need is lady luck and a bit of the English conditions which change dramatically over the course of a match. It is one of those things as there are so many variables in Test cricket.
Who are the key Indian players New Zealand should be worried about apart from Kohli and Bumrah?
Cheteshwar Pujara will be the key because he bats time and he anchors it so beautifully and that’s what I love about him. Rishabh Pant is another worry. We saw what he hid against Australian and England recently. Like McCullum he can take the game away so quickly. New Zealand will have to think that they need to take the first five-six wickets quickly. The belief is going to be the key and they will have to believe in themselves.
In the spin department, India has got the distinct edge. Do you agree?
India has definitely got a lot better balance in spin because of Ashwin and Jadeja. They also contribute with the bat. In a perfect world, you want to win the toss and bat first because of the variety they have in their attack. Because of Jadeja they tick all boxes.
Do you think it is also a clash of two different cricketing cultures?
You know what cricket means to India. For the 1.3 billion people of India it means a lot. Rugby is our main sport. Cricket is part of the social fabric in India as it unites people. For the Big three of Test nations, this WTC is a great deal. For Australia and England - the home of cricket - it is huge. These two old boys must be disappointed as they missed out on a chance to make the final.
As a commentator, you are supposed to be a neutral observer. In that sense, who is going to be the favourite for the final?
As you mentioned in the beginning, India starts as favourite because of what they achieved in Australia. Yes, they haven’t played well-enough in England in recent years but in terms of sheer confidence, they are slightly ahead of New Zealand as they have wonderful depth and balance in their side. I am not backing off because of a little bit of more dynamism in the Indian team but the extra X factor is with India.