Spin gives West Indies early foothold
After more than a year out of the Test side, it took Sunil Narine three deliveries to add to his success against New Zealand. It wasn't a great ball, and owed much to a fabulous catch at leg slip by Darren Sammy to remove Peter Fulton, but it left the home side 43 for 2. For the first time in the series, West Indies had a foothold early in a match.
Then, with half an hour left in the day, he removed Kane Williamson with a tight lbw. When Brendon McCullum's first two deliveries fizzed past his outside edge from Narine, New Zealand's captain may just have been having a second thought about his decision to bowl first. The majority of Narine's Test success came in two Tests against New Zealand last year and the doubts had been rekindled.
He is certainly being aided by a pitch which has taken both sides by surprise, offering considerable turn on the second day. "You could say that," Shivnarine Chanderpaul said with a smile and a laugh that suggested West Indies like what they see.
Williamson admitted this surface, the first produced by the new head groundsman Andy Brown, had caught New Zealand out. "Yeah, without a doubt, hence why we bowled first. I've never really seen it spin like that [in Hamilton] but they're the cards we've been dealt and we need to turn up with a change of gameplan as a batting unit to face a lot of spin on a wicket that's very much conducive to spin bowling.
"None of the last two wickets have spun very much and we didn't expect this one to either. The first two balls I bowled, they spun. I set a field for it to slide across and it spun and I thought 'OK, that's interesting'. That's the way it is, you've got to roll with those changes and adapt accordingly."
New Zealand have a long batting line-up, Ross Taylor in supreme form (although even he was left floundering on occasion against Narine) and the get-out card of a draw being enough to take the series, but West Indies will be buoyed by what they have seen so far. The period around Fulton's departure and then the final half an hour of the day was as uneasy as New Zealand have looked in the three Tests - including the careless run-chase in Dunedin.
"The challenge is different here having been thrown a curve ball," Williamson conceded. "It's a challenge for this team having taken steps to see how we adapt in favourable conditions to the opposition."
It's too much to say any of the batsmen froze, but you could see the tension building. Fulton had become stuck, tidied down by a tight 10-over opening spell from Sammy and unable to score off Veerasammy Permaul - his one attempt, coming down the pitch, ended with him spooning the ball unconvincingly over cover. He does not have a natural release shot against the spinners so Sammy was able to crowd him with close catchers. The captain himself did the job.
Taylor, the man West Indies have bowled to for hours in recent weeks, chipped his first ball, from Narine, dangerously close to short midwicket. Taylor is in fantastic touch (now just the third New Zealand batsman to score 400 runs in a three Test series) but there have been uneasy moments at the start of each innings; a glove over the slips in Dunedin and the dropped catch on nought in Wellington. He is a fine example of making the most of your fortune.
At the start of Narine's next over there was a strong shout for lbw. West Indies reviewed. Hot Spot showed a thin inside edge so it remained not out but there was hesitancy about New Zealand's batsmen. The following over, Williamson, coming down the pitch to Permaul, was done in by flight but the catching chance fell tantalisingly out of reach of Tino Best sprinting round from mid-off.
Taylor and Williamson made it through to tea and after the interval built a 95-run stand, although the spinners continued to cause more difficulties that seam had for vast stages of the previous two Tests. Then Narine slid one past Williamson's bat and the DRS showed it was clipping leg stump. West Indies will feel they were owed such a line-call after Narsingh Deonarine's decision on the first day.
In the previous matches, West Indies were close to playing two spinners but were swayed by healthy coverings of grass. On this evidence, they would have been better off ignoring the surfaces. Permaul's first two overs were understandably rusty - this was his first competitive bowl since four expensive overs in the third ODI against India - but he settled to extra enough turn to keep the batsmen uncertain. His economy rate of under three also allowed Sammy to keep control of New Zealand's scoring and there was a far greater consistency in his line that Best and Shannon Gabriel offered in the previous two Tests.
"The wicket is going to spin more," Chanderpaul said. "It has a lot of grass on top of it and the ball will grip. It will be interesting to see what happens."
West Indies sense they have been given an unexpected lifeline.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo