Christmas in the workhouse for the Windies
'Christmas Day in the Workhouse' could be the theme of the West Indies preparations for the second and final test beginning at the Basin Reserve, Wellington on Boxing Day. For New Zealand it is more a case of 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing' following their stirring but unlikely victory in the first test at Hamilton.
Showing the sort of generosity that makes Santa Claus look like Scrooge the West Indies contrived to be the first team in 122 years of test cricket to lose after a double century opening partnership.
Top of their Christmas present list is a backbone for their batting. 276 for 0 to 365 all out and 93 in the second innings tells its own story.
Captain Brian Lara must lead by example. His display at Hamilton suggested that he had enjoyed his first experience of the 10 over an innings CricketMax format so much that he had decided to keep playing it in the test match. He twice fell to reckless shots.
Ricardo Powell is the batsman whose place is most at risk. He made 0 in his first test innings, dropped an important catch and bowled a few overs of indifferent off spin. In the second innings he top scored with 30, though in a style that made the early fall of his wicket seem inevitable. There is no doubt that he has all the shots but he needs to select them much more judiciously. His promise will probably keep him in the team, otherwise Darren Ganga is the most likely replacement.
A better option might be a change in the order. Jimmy Adams was not out in the first innings at Hamilton and last out in the second, but scored only 42 in total. Given the flimsy nature of the West Indian tail, it makes sense for Adams to go in at least a place higher if his adhesive qualities are to be of any value.
It is not all batting gloom for Lara's team. The opening partnership between Sherwin Campbell and Adrian Griffith recalled the days of Haynes and Greenidge, in volume if not quite in style. Campbell has performed before, but Griffith, in only his third test, was a revelation.
He impressed as much for the strokes he did not play as for those he did. With an acute sense of the location of his off stump he frustrated the Kiwi bowlers by repeatedly moving his bat from the line of the ball at the last moment, giving the impression of being beaten when this was not so. He batted for over ten hours in the match. Ten minutes seemed to exhaust the concentration of some of his colleagues.
While reports of Basin Reserve groundsman Trevor Jackson attending to his duties in a red suit and white beard while the roller is pulled by a team of reindeer may be exaggerated, early observation suggests that he may be delivering to the West Indies bowlers the present of a pacy pitch.
If so, leg spinner Ramnarine may concede his place to Pedro Collins or Mervyn Dillon. The variation offered by Collins as a left armer plus his superior batting skills may put him first in line. Both might play if it is thought possible that Franklyn Rose would repeat a disappointing first test performance.
The one change in the New Zealand squad is prompted by the broken finger suffered by opener Matt Horne when chasing the 70 required for victory. His replacement is Mathew Sinclair of Central Districts. The Australian born batsman has an impressive statistical pedigree. His career average of 45.96 is the best of active players in New Zealand. Last season he topped the figures with 104.61. In recent weeks he has top scored for New Zealand A with 182 against England and (less impressively but more relevantly) 38 versus the West Indians.
If he plays he will bat high in the order, probably at three. Gary Stead will continue as opener, though the makeshift nature of his position was not improved by identical dismissals in both innings at Hamilton, bowled round his legs by Courtney Walsh. Craig Spearman moves up to the other opener's spot.
If any criticism can be made of a fine batting performance it is that though all the batsmen got a start to some extent, the highest score was Chris Cairns' swashbuckling 72. To be successful again somebody has to go on to three figures. Stephen Fleming needs no reminding that he has twenty two test fifties, but only two centuries.
Though the New Zealand management would strongly disagree, Monday's victory disguised the high risks of selecting two spinners and only two mainline quick bowlers. If the prognosis of a fast track is correct expect left armer Shayne O'Connor to replace off spinner Paul Wiseman. This would be tough on Wiseman who bowled better than anybody on the first day at Hamilton and did not get called upon in the second innings.
Consideration may be given to delaying Sinclair's debut in favour of playing the extra bowler, but this looks a less likely option, particularly given the strong preference for Fleming to remain at four. It leaves Nash and Vettori as the best numbers nine and ten in world cricket.
As ever, the fate of the match comes down to key individuals. For the West Indies Lara has to show greatness in the mind as well as in range of shots. Courtney Walsh will probably have to wait for the home series against Zimbabwe to overtake Kapil Dev as test cricket's leading wicket taker (he needs nine more) but is the most likely to dent the confidence of the home team.
For New Zealand Chris Cairns is the now the pivot around which the team revolves, the underachiever no more. His second innings bowling was the one thing in the first test that was more breath taking than his batting, no matter that technological (or human) problems saved him from being given run out for a duck. Arguably only Jacques Kallis is now his superior as a test all rounder. He is a better bowler than Klusener and a better batsman than Pollock.
I take New Zealand to complete a very good year by winning the series two nil.