New Zealand show signs of a revival
New Zealand finished their Test cricket for 2013 in much better shape than they started. Their first act for the year was to be rumbled for 45 in Cape Town; their last was to canter to an eight-wicket victory shortly after lunch on the fourth day in Hamilton.
Since the emotional lows of South Africa, the Test side has regrouped impressively, even though there have been a few bumps along the way. From the depths they had slumped to it was never going to be an easy climb. Since the England visit to New Zealand in March, Brendon McCullum has regularly spoken about the strides his side has made but, after losing in England - always likely to be a tough trip - and drawing a blank in Bangladesh, he desperately needed something to show for the effort from this series.
It has come in emphatic style - an-innings-and-73-run victory followed by an eight-wicket win from a point, less than 24 hours earlier, when the Test was on an even keel, if not slightly in West Indies' favour. Much will be made of the paucity of what the visitors offered after earning a narrow lead - and it was another shambolic session of Test batting from them - but to only focus on that would do a disservice to some impressive New Zealand performances.
Statistically, Ross Taylor stands out with three hundreds in a series that brought 495 runs. He needs to keep his standards high against tougher attacks, but this could be the series that defines the second half of his career. Although the double hundred in Dunedin was the landmark innings, his hundreds in Wellington (on a green pitch) and in Hamilton (on a spinning pitch) were more significant pieces of batsmanship.
However, on level terms with Taylor was the role played by Tim Southee and Trent Boult as the new ball pair shared 38 wickets in the three Tests. They would have troubled better top order line-ups than provided by West Indies, with their series-clinching spells on the third afternoon in Hamilton coming in conditions where spin was expected to be the main threat. "We got out of here with a win on a tougher wicket than we faced in the first two Tests," Southee said.
Although contributed to by an awful West Indies batting display in their second innings, this was a very significant result for New Zealand because it did not come in traditional home conditions. There would have been some rumblings if the pitch had helped West Indies level the series, but now it can be viewed as another stepping stone in their development.
"In the first two Tests, we lost the toss and were faced with green wickets and still managed 600 and 440, which were outstanding. Here, we made the wrong decision at the toss and still managed to come out with the result," McCullum said. "In hindsight we should have batted first, we misread the wicket, and obviously when we saw it turning and bouncing, there was a bit of concern there but, thankfully, we were able to get as close to their score as we did with Ross playing another world-class innings.
"I think that was the best out of the three hundreds for the series because it was such tough examination, from Sunil Narine in particular. That probably gave us a little bit of momentum and some belief we were in the game and that if we could put them under some pressure with the ball that we would be able to give ourselves a smallish chase. But we didn't envisage chasing down 120."
Not that McCullum, with an eye on the India's forthcoming visit, wants these types of surfaces to be become too frequent at home: "We preferably don't want something similar to this. That's probably why this win is really satisfying as well. I don't think we'd turn up in Kolkata and get a green one, so I'd hope when India turn up we don't give them a spinning one."
It was the breath-taking catch by Kane Williamson at gully to remove Shivnarine Chanderpaul that made McCullum believe the Test had swung decisively in New Zealand's favour, a little more than an hour after they had feared a very taxing run chase on a pitch assisting West Indies' spinners.
"After the resistance they showed in the first innings, we thought even if we'd managed to get a couple of quick ones that the progress they made through Shiv and Denesh Ramdin was going to come to the fore again, but we managed to dismiss Shiv pretty early and that's when we believed we could run through them," McCullum said.
India's visit in the New Year will provide a much tougher proposition - particularly now that India appear to be forming a decent pace attack of their own - but New Zealand do not fear anyone on their own patch. When the rankings are updated a few days later, they will still be lagging behind West Indies but, on the evidence of this series, the two teams are heading in opposite directions.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo