The problems at the top of the New Zealand order will need to correct themselves if the hosts are to overcome West Indies in the two-Test series starting in Dunedin on Thursday. New Zealand have dominated recent encounters with the visitors, but this time the batting concerns will make it a difficult record to maintain, especially when their opponents carry Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
Nowhere is the problem bigger than with the openers and yet another partnership will be on show in Dunedin. Jamie How and Tim McIntosh will form the 18th combination for their country in the past 36 Tests, ending the seven-match pairing of How and Aaron Redmond, who was dropped despite making 83 against Australia in Adelaide.
It was a surprising decision and considering the difficulties with the openers, he could have been persevered with for longer. The main reason the selectors favoured Auckland’s McIntosh, a left-hander, was his early season first-class form, which included 349 runs at 69.80 with two centuries.
Another change made by the new coach Andy Moles, who takes over from John Bracewell, is the movement up to No. 3 of Daniel Flynn. Flynn, who pushes Jesse Ryder to five, is seen as a player better suited to negotiating the new ball. Moles hopes Ryder’s free-flowing nature will be better suited to the middle order, which could be strengthened by the expected return from injury of Jacob Oram. However, Oram sent a scare through the camp by picking up a calf problem on the eve of the game.
New Zealand’s highest score in four innings in Australia was 270, but the new squad carries much more depth. Oram, who had recovered from back and finger problems before the latest setback, is due to bat at six while James Franklin, who is now a fully-fledged allrounder, could be as low as No. 9, despite hitting consecutive centuries, including a double, in his past two first-class matches for Wellington.
Both teams will be desperate for a series win. The loser will take eighth spot in the rankings, one place ahead of the cellar-dwellers Bangladesh, while the winner will be in seventh. Five years ago New Zealand were third and threatening to go into second.
While a win would move the hosts up, it is also important for the game in the country. When West Indies toured in 1980 there was huge excitement and expectation, despite that team being one of the best in history. This time their arrival has gone largely under the radar and a big reason for that is the lack of recent success by the New Zealanders. West Indies’ rise to seventh is more to do with the poor form of the hosts than a sudden reversal of fortunes in the Caribbean.
The last time the sides met in a Test series was in New Zealand almost three years ago, when Stephen Fleming’s team won convincingly. Only four of that outfit remains, leaving a very inexperienced squad. New Zealand’s top five batsmen have amassed 39 Tests between them; Chanderpaul has played 112 and Gayle 73.
West Indies have not had a Test engagement since July when they lost 2-0 to Australia at home. That may work against them in Dunedin, where the conditions have been damp, but at least they have world-class batsmen in their top order.
Gayle’s explosive play will suit the tiny ground, where the boundaries are among the shortest in the world. Chanderpaul showed his class against Australia, scoring 442 runs at 147.33, while Sarwan warmed up for the series with 158 in the draw against Auckland.
One group hoping to benefit from the moist conditions is the bowlers. Mark Gillespie has come into the side for Chris Martin, who was a surprise omission, and the change further depletes the experience of the home line-up. The new spearhead has played only two Tests - Martin has a reasonable record after 45 - but the New Zealanders may still hold a slight advantage with the ball.
Gillespie can operate over 140kph while Iain O’Brien has been in form recently and Franklin offers left-arm variation. The captain Daniel Vettori might also be dangerous on a pitch that has offered little assistance to pace recently.
In contrast, West Indies have nothing like the venom their attacks had in the 1980s. In the warm-up match Auckland made 587 for 7 declared. Fidel Edwards, who is on 95 Test wickets, can bowl fast, but after a promising start to his career is yet to make a big mark in the international game. Daren Powell and Jerome Taylor are likely to be Edwards’ support partners on an unpredictable surface.
The pitch in Dunedin was under intense scrutiny last year, when it was so dry in a first-class match that a huge crater the size of a foot was created. That led to an inquiry by New Zealand Cricket, but the strip was cleared for use for the first Test against Bangladesh. Since then it has offered little help to the quick bowlers, but heavy rain over the past few days could change that.
Another of the major talking points is the size of the boundaries. Vettori has already been critical of distance, which ranges from 52 to 62 metres. However, Gayle and Ryder will be particularly excited by them at the start of such a crucial contest.
Source:Cricket NewsMore on:Adelaide, Auckland, Australia, Chris Gayle, Daniel Flynn, Daniel Vettori, Dunedin, Jacob Oram, Jamie How, John Bracewell, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Stephen Fleming, Tim McIntosh, Wellington, West Indies
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Post InfoThis entry was posted on Wednesday, December 10th, 2008 and is filed under General, Cricket.
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