New Zealand begin an important home summer with a full series against the West Indies. Always a strong opponent to handle in their own backyard, the Black Caps will play host in a three-Test series against a West Indian team who have been woeful in overseas Tests in the past two decades.
The Matches and the Grounds
The Test series will commence with the opening Test from December 3-7 at Dunedin’s University Oval, which has a capacity of just 6000. The action moves to the more traditional venues for the next two fixtures – Seddon Park in Hamilton will host the second Test from December 11-15, while the Basin Reserve in Wellington will host the final Test from December 19-23.
The West Indies have played only once each at the University Oval and at Seddon Park – recording a drawn affair in 2008-09 at the former and a 9-wicket defeat in 1999-00 at the latter. At the Basin Reserve, the Windies have contested six Tests, winning twice, losing thrice and drawing once. New Zealand’s recent record at the Reserve has been poor – it has been five years and eight Tests since they have registered a win here, while at Hamilton they have lost each of their last three Tests. However, they have been unbeaten in the five Tests held at the University Oval so far – winning twice and drawing thrice.
The Teams and the Captains
New Zealand have named the squad for the first Test – Brendon McCullum (c), Hamish Rutherford, Peter Fulton, Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson, Aaron Redmond, Corey Anderson, Bradley-John Watling, Tim Southee, Ish Sodhi, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner, Doug Bracewell.
The dependable Williamson has been included despite being a doubtful starter due to a thumb injury. His cover is Redmond, who makes a comeback to the Test team after five years. Daniel Vettori has failed to become fit enough to make the cut, which means young leg-spinner Sodhi will lead the spin attack. Jesse Ryder’s potential return was stalled after he suffered an injury in a domestic game. The main factor will be obviously their formidable pace attack, which will pose questions to the volatile West Indies batting line-up. Captain McCullum, battling a back problem, will need to strike form as soon as possible, for he averages just 12.14 in his last seven innings. Moreover, his side are the only one not to have won a Test in the calendar year 2013, a fact that he would like to change.
West Indies – Darren Sammy (captain), Kieran Powell, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Narsingh Deonarine, Denesh Ramdin, Kraigg Brathwaite, Tino Best, Chadwick Walton, Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Shannon Gabriel, Sheldon Cottrell, Kirk Edwards, Shane Shillingford, Veerasammy Permaul, Sunil Narine.
The tourists will be without the services of Chris Gayle, who sustained a leg injury during the limited-overs series in India. His replacement is Brathwaite, who last played a Test in April 2012. Interestingly, there have been no other changes to the squad which was recently routed 2-0 in India, with the only addition being that of Narine, who was included after news of premier spinner Shillingford’s action being reported came in. Shillingford is yet to be cleared to be able to play the series. The pace attack does not inspire much confidence in the absence of Kemar Roach, an area where the Windies could find themselves wanting. The maximum amount of pressure will be on skipper Sammy, who received a lot of negative feedback after the loss in India, because of both – his captaincy as well as poor shot-selection.
Head To Head and Recent Record
Despite playing each other for the first time back in 1951-52, the two teams have played only 39 Tests. The West Indies hold a slight edge, with 12 wins against New Zealand’s 9, with 18 matches being drawn. In New Zealand, the two sides have met each other 24 times, with the hosts winning 8, losing 8 and drawing the remaining 8 Tests. Their most recent series was in 2012 in the Caribbean, where the hosts took a two-match series 2-0. The last time they played in New Zealand was in 2008-09, when a two-Test series was drawn 0-0. The last time New Zealand won a Test over the West Indies was in 2005-06, when they won a three-Test home rubber by 2-0. The last time West Indies won a Test in New Zealand was during their 1-0 win in a two-Test series in 1994-95.
Form Book and Ranking
New Zealand are currently placed 8th in the Test rankings, a good 13 points behind 7th-placed Sri Lanka and 20 points behind the West Indies. The Black Caps have not won in the calendar year 2013 – a run of 9 Tests (4 defeats, 5 draws) without a win since beating Sri Lanka away more than a year ago. They most recently drew 0-0 in a two-Test series in Bangladesh, prior to which they suffered 2-0 sweep defeats in England and South Africa, with a creditable 0-0 draw in a three-Test home series with England sandwiched in between those two overseas losses.
The West Indies came to India last month riding on six successive Test wins (two each at home against New Zealand and Zimbabwe and two in Bangladesh), but what followed was one of the most forgettable performances from them in recent memory. They were routed by an innings and inside three days in each of the two Tests, once again confirming that they are by far the poorest travellers among the top eight nations. Aside of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, they have failed to win a Test series in any country since winning in New Zealand (mentioned above) back in 1994-95. Let alone series, the last time they won an overseas Test against a top-eight team was at Port Elizabeth in 2007-08, and the instance prior to that was at Edgbaston in 2000.
Players To Watch Out For
Hamish Rutherford burst on to the Test scene with a rapid 171 in his very first innings against England at Dunedin in March this year, but in the eleven innings since then, the 24-year old southpaw has failed to record in a single fifty. He will return to the ground where he made his memorable debut for the first Test against the West Indies, and this in itself should charge up this talented batsman to get things back on track. Moreover, he has warmed up well, scoring 61 and 72 for a New Zealand XI in the recent practice match against the West Indians. In familiar conditions, expect Rutherford to give his side some good starts, because even he knows that another string of failures might put him in danger of not being considered as a first-choice opener.
The wounded West Indians will be looking revive their fortunes, and the spotlight will be on the batsmen. With Gayle absent and evergreen Chanderpaul seriously requiring support, the rest of the batsmen need to stand up and be counted. For 23-year old Kieran Powell in particular, this challenging tour could be an acid Test. In India, he failed to get substantial scores in spite of getting some good starts, but he his better than his career average of 30.32 suggests. The left-hander also has good memories of playing New Zealand, as he had scored his maiden Test hundred against them at North Sound in 2012. The onus will be on him to carry a brittle top three, and if he gets his eye in early, the confidence will naturally flow.
It has been 19 years since West Indies won an overseas series against a top nation, and it is pretty unlikely that this will change. New Zealand might not have had the best of years, but they begin this series as favourites. The Windies will give a fight, but the end result will be 1-0 or 2-0 (rain may be a factor) for the hosts in my opinion.