New Zealand players celebrate with the winners trophy after their win in the second cricket test match between England and New Zealand at Edgbaston in Birmingham, England, Sunday, June 13, 2021. New Zealand won the series 1-0. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
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SOUTHAMPTON, England (AP) — Shaded here by the rising hubbub of European Championship soccer is a cricket final that will be followed by many millions of fans, most of them far from its England stage.

The inaugural world test championship will be decided from Friday between favored India and No. 1-ranked New Zealand in Southampton. There's been very little local hype, to no surprise.

England's sporting focus is on Euro 2020, made easier by the dire displays of its national men's cricket team which was humbled by New Zealand in two tests this month.

Also, the two-year world test championship has been disrupted and disjointed during the COVID-19 pandemic. But, suitably, the two form teams have reached the final, which was moved from Lord's because Southampton's Rose Bowl facility has hotel accommodation to guarantee a bio-bubble.

India start as favorite because of the greater options at its disposal, but will go in under prepared. Because India is reeling from COVID-19, Virat Kohli's squad had to spend 14 days in quarantine in Mumbai, then another 10 in Southampton.

Only since Sunday has the team been allowed to practice together, undertaking match simulation exercises to try and compensate for the lack of a proper warm-up match.

Little “preparation time is a bit of a disadvantage maybe, but if you're ready for the challenge, even if circumstances aren't favourable, you'd do well,” India batsman Cheteshwar Pujara said. "We're confident as a team. Maybe a few extra days of preparation would've helped, but we can't complain. We're ready.”

New Zealand warmed up well in the tests against England and dominated both, winning the second match at Edgbaston inside four days without captain Kane Williamson, Tim Southee and wicketkeeper BJ Watling, who is ending his 12-year international career after the final.

"Hopefully, I'll leave New Zealand cricket in a good space,” Watling said.

Together with Ross Taylor and Trent Boult, the five players have been the spine of New Zealand’s greatest test era. The team at Edgbaston had six changes, and such is New Zealand's depth that player of the match Matt Henry is likely to miss out on the final.

The 11th spot seems to be a toss between spinner Ajaz Patel and seam bowling allrounder Colin de Grandhomme, who was rested at Edgbaston. England played without a spinner and paid for it. The weather may decide. After four weeks of dry conditions, showers are in the forecast, including the reserve sixth day. Continuous cloud cover will suit New Zealand swing bowlers Southee, Boult, Kyle Jamieson, and de Grandhomme.

But Southampton test pitches are inclined to spin, and dry quickly, and India would prefer to play Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. Without a warmup match, though, India may decide that runs are premium, and pick Hanuma Vihari at No. 6. Then one fast bowler may miss out from a group including Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj, who starred in India's unprecedented test series triumph in Australia at the start of the year.

Despite featuring adventurous captains Williamson and Kohli, and an extra reserve day, the final is at the mercy of the weather, and the forecast is challenging. If the outcome is a draw, the trophy will be shared.


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