Often punished, commonly beaten, rather brutally beaten, Cricket hasn’t afforded the West Indies a lot of joys. But where the period of an year and a half stands- one has seen Jason Holder’s men go from strength to strength.
Proving that their triumph against Pakistan under lights (Oct 2016) wasn’t a one-off affair, the West Indies demonstrated gritty cricket by first holding off India to a draw at Jamaica, beating Pakistan handsomely at Barbados and later, defeating England comprehensively at Headingly.
They might be young and inexperienced but they are gradually and surely coming to life in the 5-day contest. But now, here at New Zealand- West Indies shall face a whole new challenge. The pitches could be fast and would surely assist the likes of Sodhi and Santner. There may not be too many runs on offer and this could trouble those whose bats have been brittle off late in the West Indies contingent.
The series against the Black Caps will be important one for the West Indies for myriad reasons. But mostly because the Windies cannot afford to disintegrate where cricket’s longest format is concerned. On the other hand, a loss or draw for New Zealand will change their test ranking position as Australia are already leading in the Ashes.
Here’s some insight into how important the current series is.
In last 5 years, West Indies have only won Test series against Bangladesh & Zimbabwe. Coming at the back of a successful Zimbabwean outing, they will be challenged in absolutely new conditions, one where the likes of Chase, Hope, Blackwood and Dowrich haven’t ever taken to the batting crease.
Moreover, West Indies have won just 3 Test matches against top teams; two against Pakistan and one against England from the past half a decade.
But fans will eagerly note the events in 2012. If you rewind your minds, then you’ll recall West Indies won their last series way during this time against New Zealand.
Remember Gayle’s 150?
But, clearly, it was some time in the past. New Zealand have since grown as a side. Southee- even though slated to sit out for First Test at Basin Reserve has emerged as the leader of the pack in all conditions. Boult has been coming into his own. With guys like Taylor and Guptill still around to give company to Williamson, the presence of a durable contestant in Latham accounts for some power.
Does it not?
For Latham and co. to beat West Indies will not be a big task for the Blackcaps. Meanwhile, the West Indies cannot afford a series blunder. They would be surely hoping to finish off the year on a high. This, of course, has been a period where Roston Chase and Shai Hope have battled them out of testing, trying times.
It is but expected that Holder would want his young guns to go all out against New Zealand. To hit hundreds at Jamaica, Antigua and Barbados is one thing but to emerge out of the crease and hit it out at Wellington or Auckland requires something special.
West Indies cannot afford to lose. Their successful chase against England at Leeds against top bowlers like James Anderson and Stuart Broad will boost their confidence to face Trent Boult, Wagner and Henry. They would feel a different taste of challenge as barring Boult the duo of Henry and Wagner aren’t as quick as a Broad and Finn.
New Zealand, it must be said, boast of a good record at home conditions especially in the last 3-4 years. The team mostly depends on captain Kane Williamson who will look to be back among runs and if he does get going- Gabriel and company might be in for trouble.
But interestingly the two opponents haven’t really played an awful lot of cricket in recent times.
In the last series against South Africa at home, New Zealand lost 1-0. Wicket-keeper batsman Tom Blunder will make his Test debut on Friday in the absence of BJ Watling. That calls for a fresh perspective; Williamson will be keen to test out his newbie.
West Indies batting, meanwhile, depends on Kraigg Brathwaite and how good a start would he be able to give alongside Kieron Powell. Shai Hope, Roston Chase would of course command everyone’s attention. But it is crucial that Shane Dowrich contributes, especially coming at the back of a recent ton against Zimbabwe.
There’s been a lot of talk surrounding uncapped Sunil Ambris. After all, the 24-year-old fired an impressive tour match hundred. That will augur well for his confidence.
But all that said, Kane Williamson would be keen to exploit the weaklings; that West Indies haven’t been all that great in the last decade or so. Their Cricket has only begun to grow now. Fans would hope that the Caribbean side will be back in its old rhythm. Former West Indian captain Darren Sammy also predicted that West Indies might well draw the series 1-1 but for this, they will have to contest out of their skin with ebullience; quite like the West Indies we saw against England at Leeds.
New Zealand:- Kane Williamson (c), Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme, Lockie Ferguson, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls, Jeet Raval, Mitchell Santner, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner, George Worker
West Indies:- Jason Holder (c), Kraigg Brathwaite (vc), Sunil Ambris, Devendra Bishoo, Jermaine Blackwood, Roston Chase, Miguel Cummins, Shane Dowrich, Shannon Gabriel, Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph, Kieron Powell, Raymon Reifer, Kemar Roach
1st Test 1-5 Dec, 2017 Basin Reserve, Wellington
2nd Test 9-13 Dec, 2017 Seddon Park, Hamilton
1st ODI 20 Dec, 2017 Cobham Oval (New), Whangarei
2nd ODI 23 Dec, 2017 Hagley Oval, Christchurch
3rd ODI 26 Dec 2017 Hagley Oval, Christchurch
1st 29 Dec 2017 Saxton Oval, Nelson
2nd 01 Jan 2018 Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui
3rd 03 Jan 2018 Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui