REUTERS: An upbeat New Zealand will take on an undercooked India aiming to become test cricket's first official world champions when they clash in the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC) final in Southampton from Friday.
The one-off match at the Rose Bowl marks the culmination of a two-year cycle of the WTC, which was launched in 2019 to create test cricket's own pinnacle event.
The governing International Cricket Council (ICC) wanted the championship to bring relevance and context to test cricket and New Zealand captain Kane Williamson said it had been a success.
"I think we saw it at the end of the competition, teams trying to push their case for qualifying which made way for a lot of exciting results," the 30-year-old said last week.
"We saw in Australia, in New Zealand, a lot of teams had a chance to get through."
New Zealand are looking to shed the bridesmaids tag in big finals, having finished runners-up at the last two 50-overs World Cups.
They were particularly unlucky in 2019 when England won the title via a now-scrapped boundary-count rule after the final ended in a tie even after a Super Over.
The WTC final presents them with another opportunity to become world champions and they look ready to grasp their chance, signalling their preparedness with a 1-0 series victory against England.
Particularly impressive was how the team under stop-gap captain Tom Latham, having made six changes to their squad, triumphed by eight wickets inside four days in Edgbaston.
By contrast, India have not played a test match since March and are yet to win an ICC trophy under skipper Virat Kohli.
The importance of the WTC final was not lost on the 32-year-old.
"This holds a lot of value, especially this being the first of its kind and in the toughest format," Kohli said before leaving for England.
"This is like the accumulation of all the hard work of not just the duration of the championship but the last five-six years."
The WTC final could prove to be a contest between India's star-studded batting line-up and New Zealand's versatile pace attack armed with the fast-swinging Dukes ball.
With an animated Kohli and a phlegmatic Williamson leading their troops, the final will also be a clash of contrasting leadership styles.
The ICC is happy with how the WTC generated more interest in test cricket.
"It was obvious that the interest in certain series wasn't just restricted to the two teams involved," ICC acting CEO Geoff Allardice told a virtual news conference on Monday.
"It was coming from all over the cricketing world and I think to bring that sort of context to test cricket is a real step forward."
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Peter Rutherford)