The announcement in March that the inaugural ICC World Test Championship final had been shifted from Lord’s to Southampton’s Rose Bowl on account of the ongoing shadow of the coronavirus pandemic changed, to a degree, the shape of this much-awaited clash between the top two teams in Test cricket.
The Ageas Bowl has over the past decade become, arguably, the most ‘Asian’ surface in England (Cardiff’s Sophia Gardens is the other noticeable such venue) because of the assistance to spin. Tests and ODIs there have been won with spinners having a big say, but even given their excellent spin pair of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja for the WTC final, it is not like India are walk-in favourites against New Zealand.
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New Zealand have been in England for a while and are coming off a 1-0 Test series win over England. And while Virat Kohli is not one to look back to the past, he is aware of how poor Indian cricket teams have been at The Rose Bowl, having featured in the country’s only Test matches at this venue.
India have played just two Tests in Southampton, in 2014 and 2018, and lost both.
India vs England, July 2014
Result: England 597/6 & 205/4 beat India 330 & 178 by 266 runs
MS Dhoni’s team was playing catch-up in the third Test of this five-match series from the time England opted to bat and close day on at The Rose Bowl on 247/2. England marched on to 569/7, after which India managed 330. Two of their ten wickets – Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma, fell to the offspin of Moeen Ali, who went on to have a big say in England’s win.
Batting again, the hosts hurried to 205/4 at 5.04 runs an over to set India a target of 445. They never came close, as Moeen grabbed six wickets – Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli, Jadeja and the tail – to end with eight in the match. That win levelled the series at 1-1 and proved a massive turnaround for the hosts, who won the next two Tests to seal the contest.
India vs England, August 2018
Result: England 246 & 271 beat India 273 and 184 by 60 runs
Fans of Indian cricket watching the fourth Test at The Rose Bowl could be excused for having an overwhelming sense of deja vu about Moeen’s success at the same venue at which he bamboozled India four years earlier as England roared back from 0-1 to march to a 3-1 series victory.
Back in the England XI after almost six months, Moeen began by scoring a vital 40 from the No 7 spot as he and Sam Curran (78) revived the home team’s first innings from 86/6 to 246. Then when India batted, Moeen claimed 5/63 to help limit them to 273. Moeen’s five wickets pegged the visiting team back from the safety of 181/4 to 195/8 and though Pujara’s unbeaten 132 helped them to a lead of 27, the damage had been done.
A promotion for Moeen to No 3 in England’s second innings failed and drew criticism from some former English players turned commentators, but he was still to have a huge say on the outcome of this Test. On the fourth evening, Moeen ran through India to bowl England to a 60-run win that sealed the series for the hosts 3-1 with a match to play. Nine minutes before tea, Moeen dismissed Kohli for 58 in his 18th over bowled, and then after the break added Rahane, Rishabh Pant and Mohammed Shami to finish with 4/71 and make it nine wickets in the match