Green pitch may stymie West Indies spin
The sight of Shane Shillingford troubling New Zealand's top order on the final day in Dunedin had peaked West Indies' excitement at the prospect of confounding them with spin in the remainder of this series, but that notion may have to be put on hold. The 22 yards at the Basin Reserve was barely discernible from the outfield after the covers were belatedly removed following a damp morning.
West Indies, though, are encouraged by the fitness of Darren Sammy and the captain took a full part in the fielding drills on Monday without any noticeable discomfort. Although he still needs to bowl in the nets, the signs are that he will take a full part in the Test.
Sunil Narine and Veerasammy Permaul are the other spinners in the squad, with the former favourite to come into the side if two are selected. Shane Warne often reels off the saying "if it seams, it spins", but playing just two pace bowlers is unthinkable if the groundsman leaves such a covering. However, one benefit West Indies do have is that Narsingh Deonarine bowls useful offspin, and so can supplement the same balance of attack as West Indies used in Dunedin.
"That's a strong possibility," Ottis Gibson, the West Indies coach, said when asked about playing an extra spinner and as the rain kept the pitch covered. "We have to look at the pitch first. We've heard some things about it, that we won't be able to tell the pitch from the outfield so that will make us think for sure about two spinners or not. Shannon Gabriel did not have a good Test, he did not bowl very well, but we believe in him - that's why we picked him - he's shown he can be a quality performer. We have to give them the confidence they need."
Two days out from a Test is always a tricky time to be judging what the pitch will actually start like, but even within the New Zealand team there was consensus that they had never seen so much grass on a surface at this ground, even for domestic matches where groundsmen tend to produce livelier surfaces.
"Even in first-class cricket when you arrive there's normally a bit more grass on, but I've never seen it looking that green," Peter Fulton said. "It'll be interesting to see if it does as much as what it looks like it'll do.
"It's a little bit hard to pick it out from the rest of the block so I'm sure the bowlers will be happy. The last couple of years in New Zealand the wickets have been batter-friendly so there are certainly no complaints from the batters. You don't expect it to be good for batting all the time."
New Zealand undoubtedly have the stronger hand of pace bowlers - Doug Bracewell is the other available in the squad should a change or addition be required - but there may be a double-edged sword if the pitch is still very green come Wednesday morning because they are coming off the back of 224 overs in the field over the last three days in Dunedin. The bowlers were given a day off on Monday, and are unlikely to do much work tomorrow, either, as they are protected ahead of the Test.
There has been some criticism of the Dunedin pitch, but without rain the Test would have concluded with a result in the final session - which is a good yardstick for a well-balanced surface. It was, though, hard work for the quicks and the sight of something promising more life is helping to ease away those aches and pains.
"It's going to be totally different than Dunedin. As a bowler I do enjoy coming here; a lot more pace and bounce and it does swing here," Trent Boult said. "It was a pretty heavy workload but I'm feeling good. The whole bowling group are feeling good and taking a nice couple of easy days.
"Test cricket is extremely strenuous on the body and you've got to work out a plan and what works well for you. It takes a lot to keep going at that intensity and you've got to be smart with your down time."
West Indies' quick bowlers, though, are under instruction to improve from their Dunedin showing. "Our bowlers, whenever we got two or three balls right, we looked like getting an edge - sometimes they went over slip - but the New Zealand batsmen just had to wait for a poor ball to score off," Gibson said. "New Zealand bowled with great discipline, especially Southee and Boult in the first innings, and we have to learn from them. Patience is a skill in itself and something we need to work on as a bowling group."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo