With five Test series wins out of the total six contested, imperious India booked a spot in the final of the inaugural edition of the World Test Championship. The home domination seemed nothing surprising as India got off the block with an unbeaten run of seven Test wins which included a 2-0 series win in West Indies in their opener, before being stopped by Kane Williamson's men in New Zealand. India, amid all odds, bounced back to script a memorable series win in Australia before defeating England on home soil to confirm their ticket for the Southampton game.
Although it should have been easy picking the India XI for the summit clash against the Blackcaps, which begins from June 18, the historic win Down Under offered a few happy headaches after the debutants made sizeable contributions to make their case.
Ahead of the big game, we take a look at India's possible playing XI for the WTC final.
India are unlikely to change the opening combination after their valiant show in Australia, hence the top 6 batters will pick themselves with Rishabh Pant providing the balance.
Should India pick both the spinners? The fact that both Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are world-class all-rounders, one offering the left-hand option and the other walking in at No.8 with five Test centuries and over 400 wickets, only adds to India's batting depth, and bowling variety.
Moreover, the Southampton pitch has favoured spinners, as most veteran cricketers have spoken in the build-up to the WTC final. Since 2011, spinners have averaged 34.58 in six Tests, picking 41 wickets at a strike rate of 64. Only at Headingley have spinners recorded better numbers.
However, compared to the other variety, spinners have averaged marginally less than pacers, but have picked wickets more often than the opposite variety.
Simon Lee, the head groundsman at Hampshire, on Monday told ESPNCricinfo that spin could be a potential factor if the conditions remain dry and match extends to the last two days.
"As I said, the forecast is looking okay, the pitches dry out very quickly here as we do have some sand mixed into our cricket loam, which helped it hold together when the pitches were re-laid some 10 years ago, but it can help it spin as well. To get to that point we'll need the seamers to bowl, some runs scored, and make some rough along the way. The pitch will always get talked about a lot, but you need the players to play their part to make a good game, so if we produce a pitch that allows the players to show their skills at the top level and we have an entertaining game for the fans, we will be more than satisfied."
Can Mohammed Siraj find a spot?
That perfect set-up for Joe Root, that seaming delivery to dismiss David Warner. In his five-match Test career which included a debut in Australia and leading the pace attack in Gabba in absence of the seniors, Siraj has produced some breathtaking moments, which has indeed made his case for the WTC final. But his inclusion would be at the cost of either Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma.
Only three bowlers have averaged less than 25 and a strike rate of less than 40, while playing at least five games in the World Test Championship. Ishant (17.36 and 36.3) and Shami (19.77 and 39.9) are among them alongside New Zealand's Kyle Jamieson (12.28 and 25.1). Bumrah, who missed the South Africa Test and matches in the Australia tour, picked 34 wickets in nine games at 22.41 at a strike rate of 48.7. While Siraj will be a tempting option, the trio of Ishant, Bumrah and Shami are proven
No place for Hanuma Vihari?
Vihari, who played the County this season ahead of joining the Indian squad for the WTC final, put up quite a few valiant fights in the tournament topped by his innings at the SCG where he batted for 40 overs with a torn hamstring to help India salvage a draw. However, the only way, Vihari could find a spot in the XI for the final would be in place of Jadeja, where the batsman could be picked as the extra spinner, like was in the previous tour of England in 2018.
Possible XI: Rohit, Gill, Pujara, Kohli, Rahane, Pant, Jadeja/Vihari/Siraj, Ashwin, Bumrah, Ishant, Shami