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December 2, 2013
'Depleted West Indies face tough ask'
Tuesday December 3, 2013, Dunedin
Start time 10.30am (2130GMT previous day)
The Big Picture
New Zealand ended their previous home season with the crushing disappointment of being denied a series victory over England by one wicket as Matt Prior and Monty Panesar played out the final few, fraught moments in Auckland. Since then it has been a trying time for them, but they begin their new season with a series they should be confident of winning ahead of the sterner challenge of India's visit.
If West Indies had been at full strength - with the likes of Chris Gayle and Kemar Roach available - the teams would have been almost level-pegging at the start, but home advantage and a stronger seam attack make New Zealand the early favourites. However, their Test cricket is far from consistent enough to make that anything more than a speculative judgement.
West Indies barely competed in India and the shoe-horned in tour has meant slap-dash preparation for this series, limited to a mix-and-match warm-up game where New Zealand domestic players appeared in the same side as West Indians and a couple of days' training in Dunedin. If it was a Test series decided on how many layers were being worn, West Indies would be winning.
If they start badly in the first Test - and their warm-up period makes that a distinct possibility - the series could unravel for them, but at least it is three Test matches rather than the token two so often see around the world nowadays.
New Zealand showed many positive signs when England visited in March, top of the list being the performances of Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner who comprehensively outbowled the visiting seamers. Their spin bowling and top-order batting remain unsteady, though. Daniel Vettori and Jesse Ryder may return later in the season, but this series came too soon.
West Indies LLWWW
Watch out for
Hamish Rutherford burst into the Test scene at this ground in March with 171 against England, but since then has not been able to raise his bat for a milestone. Firstly he struggled against the moving ball in England then against the spinning one in Bangladesh but he does possess the game to take apart a thin West Indies pace attack. However, the recall of Aaron Redmond to the New Zealand squad is also notice to Rutherford that he won't be able to live on his dazzling debut for much longer.
The second coming of Marlon Samuels as a Test cricketer has produced some outstanding innings, lifting his average from 28.73 when he was banned in 2008 to 36.74 as it stands now. He is a vital part of the middle order with the game to counter-attack and rebuild, a position he has often found himself in. For West Indies' sake it must be hoped that the renewed controversy over his bowling action does not distract from his main task.
Kane Williamson has not recovered sufficiently from his broken thumb so Aaron Redmond will bat at No.3. Doug Bracewell is the pace bowler to miss out although Brendon McCullum did say that some thought had been given to four quicks. However, Williamson's absence means that Ish Sodhi's leg spin becomes their lone slow-bowling option.
New Zealand 1 Hamish Rutherford, 2 Peter Fulton, 3 Aaron Redmond, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Brendon McCullum (capt), 6 Corey Anderson, 7 BJ Watling (wk), 8 Ish Sodhi, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Neil Wagner, 11 Trent Boult
West Indies need to decide who supports Tino Best; Shannon Gabriel played in Mumbai so is the man in possession or the other option is left-arm Sheldon Cottrell. Ottis Gibson will assess whether Shane Shillingford is in the right mindset for a Test after having his action reported. Kraigg Brathwaite has still not arrived due to visa issues.
West Indies (probable) 1 Kieran Powell, 2 Kirk Edwards, 3 Darren Bravo, 4 Marlon Samuels, 5 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 6 Narsingh Deonarine, 7 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 8 Darren Sammy (capt), 9 Shane Shillingford, 10 Tino Best, 11 Shannon Gabriel
Pitch and conditions
Having become unnerved by the brevity of some first-class matches at University Oval, the Test surfaces here have verged on the flat in recent encounters. England managed to bat out two days to save the Test in March. This time there is a suggestion of more life in the pitch with a healthy covering of grass being left on, perhaps because of West Indies' spin bowling being a strength. West Indies will be pleased that the mercury is due to rise into the mid-20s with a very good forecast for the first four days of the match.
Stats and trivia
"We are playing good cricket, we just need to start putting some results together. We know we need to start getting those wins and that starts here."
Brendon McCullum is aware that talking a good game can only last so long
"Today's lovely, it's back like the Caribbean now so hopefully the weather can be like this for the five days."
Denesh Ramdin was pleased to feel the weather warm up in Dunedin
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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