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On this Hamilton pitch, the in-form Sunil Narine would have been looking forward to defending a decent total for West Indies, but in typical fashion their batsmen have let the bowlers down
December 21, 2013
McGlashan: Early Christmas present for NZ
Bowling last on this pitch should have given West Indies a significant advantage. However, Sunil Narine needed a workable total to defend. Instead, having claimed a career-best 6 for 91, he stood at the non-striker's end as Tim Southee took three wickets in an over to bowl out West Indies in a session. From a position of parity when Narine wrapped up New Zealand's first innings, the series was all but done and dusted a little over two hours later and Narine was back at the bowling crease for the final over of the day.
He would have posed a significant threat with a target of 200 to defend. The final advantage of 121, despite his box of tricks, is surely not enough even given the way New Zealand chased nervously in Dunedin. None of the New Zealand batsmen have picked Narine consistently, even the prolific Ross Taylor, and often Narine's carrom ball spun too much but he has been badly let down by the batsmen. That is an all-to familiar remark about West Indies.
"New Zealand went out there and showed us exactly how to bowl on that wicket," Narine said. "We had targeted around 250-300 but that changed. You never know in the world of cricket what may happen tomorrow. Wickets send jitters, hopefully, you never know, we can get a couple of wickets and go from there."
They had pushed New Zealand hard for two-and-a-half days in this Test, made them look nervous and had them commenting on their surprise at the nature of the pitch. But they have fallen prey to another those dreadful sessions with the bat that so often appears for them. It was also one of those passages of play during which they could not have assured victory, but could assure defeat. The latter has come to fruition.
"There's genuine excitement," Taylor said at the prospect of wrapping up victory on the fourth day. "Anything over 180-200 could have been very realistic [for West Indies] but to keep it down to 122 was outstanding. The way that they [the New Zealand pacers] bowled and the aggression they showed, they need a lot of pats on the back for the hostility they showed."
One of the significant themes of this match has been the frequency of the new balls having to be changed. It has happened in each innings. On this occasion the ball lasted less than three overs before the umpires were forced to delve into the box. The one that came out started to swing for Trent Boult and he made full use of it, yet again, albeit with a helping hand from some poor strokes - not least Kraigg Brathwaite who aimed horribly across the line. It was the beginning of a trend.
New Zealand's catching was vital, too. Southee (developing into as good a pace-bowling catcher as James Anderson) took a sharp one at third slip, BJ Watling a neat one down the leg side but they both paled in comparison to Kane Williamson's out-stretched right hand, low at gully, to snaffle Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Given the speed the ball came at, and the fact the catchers were standing closer due to the slow nature of the pitch, it was a catch to rival Boult's in Wellington. This match has not been short on good grabs; Darren Sammy's stooping caught-and-bowled yesterday was the pick of three top-class efforts from him.
Williamson is one of the finest gully fielders in the world. He held his nerve to control a juggled catch in the first innings to remove Marlon Samuels and held a sharp one in Wellington. A quick look around YouTube will highlight a brace of magnificent results from Colombo a little over a year ago.
He put one down in the first innings (at midwicket) during what was one of New Zealand's less distinguished catching displays. Four went down in total, but it appears to have been a momentary blimp. They were almost faultless in Wellington. There entire slip cordon is top-notch with Taylor and Peter Fulton rarely missing an opportunity. Static footwork from West Indies' batsmen and a bowling attack that creates regular chances means they are constantly in the game.
"The way we caught was outstanding," Taylor said. "Boulty came off 10 wickets and I wouldn't say he struggled [in the first innings] but it wasn't quite working for him. Today was a new day and he bowled outstandingly well and Tim didn't get the rewards. They complement each other very well. Neil Wagner bowled the best he has all series. Today he had a bit more zip and we were probably further back than we have been all series and to have Corey Anderson there, I think Ish is probably wondering when he's going to bowl again."
The final session of the third day, however, was not a good advert for Test batting. Regardless of the spin or swing on offer this remained a more-than-decent batting surface. It needed concentration and resilience (see exhibit A: Ross Taylor), someone to sell their wicket dearly. One batsman battling their way to 80 would have given West Indies a chance on a pitch they could hardly have expected in this country. But nobody does a collapse quite like West Indies.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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