Try picking the New Zealand side to face India in the World Test Championship final.
Go on, I dare you. Grab a pencil and a piece of paper and start scribbling your names down. Make sure you bring an eraser to the party.
Let's guide you through the process, starting with a cautionary note about not getting fooled by how simple the top order is.
Tom Latham – check.
Devon Conway – check.
Kane Williamson, capt – check.
Ross Taylor – never really in doubt, though it was nice to see him back in the runs.
Henry Nicholls – check.
Things get a little bit trickier here but only if BJ Watling's back and hip niggles are deemed prohibitive. Either way, it is a binary choice, so let's pick the veteran and bracket his protégé for argument's sake.
BJ Watling (Tom Blundell) – check.
A simple, transparent process so far, you'd probably agree. Now brace yourself as things get even trickier than facing Ravi Ashwin on a Wankhede Stadium dustbowl.
– had the inside running as the incumbent before getting injured. Scored a duck on his return at Lord's and didn't take a wicket. Appeals as a luxury wildcard at the moment, but do you want to go into the most important test you'll ever play with a luxury wildcard?
– wasted an opportunity at Edgbaston when he slapped a long hop straight to midwicket. Classy batsman and an immaculate slip fieldsman, but it is hard to see his bowling as anything other than pedestrian at this level.
– being Kane Williamson's favourite safety blanket might not be enough to secure selection after Ajaz Patel demonstrated the gulf that exists between specialist white-ball and red-ball spinners in the longer format. After being dismissed without scoring while playing a dreadful shot at Lord's, the case for him being the guy who shortens the tail is a little harder to make.
Kyle Jamieson – check. Not as sharp at Lord's as he was in the home summer, he'll still be a crucial component of any New Zealand set up. Surely No 7 is at least one spot too high though, isn't it?
Tim Southee – check. We're watching the golden age of Southee with the ball, but No 8 is definitely at least one spot too high in the order.
Neil Wagner – check. Believe it or not, there is chatter that Wagner will miss out at Southampton. Bonkers. On a flat deck in the third or fourth innings of a test, there's nobody better at crowbarring batsmen from the crease. If he's not on the team sheet, there are Indian batsmen who will be quietly fist-pumping in their rooms.
– a gloriously redemptive man-of-the-match performance in Birmingham, but will it be enough to sway the selectors? Possibly not, but he's given us plenty to ponder because…
Trent Boult – … the left-armer's weakest spells were when the Dukes ball was brand new, in direct contrast to Henry, who got the ball to dance off the strings at the top of the innings. Still, Boult's pedigree gets him the nod so, check.
– Has never let New Zealand down in away tests and added to his reputation with some tidy, wicket-taking spells at Edgbaston. However, his chances were possibly dealt a fatal blow when the Ageas Bowl curator Simon Lee indicated spin would only be a factor if the test went into the final two days and it remained warm and dry. The forecast is for cool weather and showers.
So there you have it, my 11 for the inaugural WTC final. Hang on, that's only 10. Damn, I'm stuck.
There's a temptation to play a spinner, of course there is, but deep down I cannot see even Patel troubling India's high-class line-up with his left-arm orthodox.
Picking a spinner not named Mitchell Santner means batting Jamieson at No 7, and that feels like an invitation for disaster. A draw sees the trophy shared so there is a very real prospect of New Zealand needing to bat out a day to achieve that. When you have a line-up that is, with all due respect, populated with sloggers from No 7 down, your chances are reduced.
In turn, picking Santner feels like a cop out. He has not done enough with the bat to suggest he's vastly superior at no 7 than a Jamieson, nor has he done enough with the ball to give you confidence he can chip away at India.
This is all a long way of saying, "no specialist spinner". That's hard for purists to understand and I get it but New Zealand's modus operandi, the plan that got them to the final in the first place, was to blitz all opposition with the four-pronged pace attack. A few cheap Patel wickets against a fragile batting line-up doesn't require a quantum shift. Whatever overs need to be raced through, Williamson can do it with his curious brand of off spin.
It comes down to, for me at least, de Grandhomme or Mitchell at No 7.
De Grandhomme is the better bowler, no question, but again I return to the notion that the Black Caps are going to win this test by dint of the efforts of Southee, Wagner, Jamieson and Boult. The fifth bowler, ideally, will be peripheral.
So, after 900 words, we get to the crux.
I'm picking Mitchell. He's the best batsman of those on the fringe, catches everything within his range and has something intangible about him that screams "winner".
It's not a perfect team, but it's the team that will win a big trophy. Without a strikethrough in sight, it goes: Latham, Conway, Williamson, Taylor, Nicholls, Watling, Mitchell, Jamieson, Southee, Wagner, Boult.
Anyway, this was meant to be an interactive exercise, but I've completely taken over.
Do you agree or vehemently disagree? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NZ cricketers, photographed in their PPE gear, ran away from India. There is a good chance NZ cricketers are playing against sides depleted by the effects of the pandemic, so these victories might seem hollow. Any win against India will be downright echo-y, but the privileged and protected players won't care one way or the other in the circumstances. – Barb Callaghan
I'm really struggling with the logic of this Barb. The Indian team New Zealand is playing in the WTC final is not depleted by the effects of the pandemic – let's get that out there for a start.
What I suspect you're unhappy about is that New Zealanders were at the IPL in the first place. I'm kind of with you: the optics were uncomfortable, but you're looking for blame in all the wrong places.
The players didn't make the call to start the tournament. The franchises, the board of control for Indian cricket and the Indian government did that. The players had nothing to do with setting the protocols that should have, but didn't, keep them safe. All they did was fulfil the terms of their contract.
If that offends you, can I politely suggest that only those who have led a truly privileged life can rail against those who choose to stay employed in a business where the average earning years are less than a decade.
They were extremely fortunate to be in a position to be spirited out of India when conditions became untenable, yes, but are you suggesting they should have done it without PPE gear?
By all means show anger about the IPL taking place while the country was in the midst of a health crisis, but don't misplace it.
A good friend of mine loves the drop intro on this outstanding Sam Anderson profile of NBA megastar Kevin Durant that appeared in The New York Times Magazine. I actually think it is the weakest (contrived?) part of the story, but hey, the great yarns should always provoke debate.
If you like this, you'll love Anderson's magnificently unique story of Oklahoma/OKC Thunder, a book that merges American history with sport and all kinds of other extraneous material. I can't reproduce it here, but I can recommend it.