West Indies look to break the jinx
Even a cursory look at the match-ups for Friday's second Test at the Basin Reserve in Wellington suggests a story of two contrasting teams. New Zealand have the luxury of fielding an unchanged eleven while West Indies have lost Ramnaresh Sarwan due to a torn muscle in his left leg, an injury he picked up a fortnight ago, look likely to lose fast bowler Jerome Taylor with a sore shoulder, and may still not have the comfort of Dwayne Bravo's bowling services.
Thus far, West Indies' tour has been riddled by inconsistency, over-aggression, and Shane Bond. They arrived in New Zealand not having played international cricket since August 2005, much to the annoyance of coach Bennett King, were undone in the Twenty20 tour opener thanks to a bowl-out farce in which Bond was the star, went on to be trampled 4-1 in the one-day series and then contrived to squander a run chase at Auckland earlier this week, Bond being the wrecker-in-chief.
Where West Indies made a mess of a positive start in the second innings - they were 148 for no loss and were bowled out for 263 - New Zealand fought back from a poor start on the first day thanks to a rousing hundred from Scott Styris. And following a middle-order collapse in the second they were boosted by a determined innings from Brendon McCullum. The West Indies need someone to stand up and hold the reins, instead of the whole side following the path of impetuosity once the noose tightens. Brian Lara has often been that figure, but at Auckland he was dismissed twice - the second time carelessly walking across his stumps - by a fast bowler at the top of his game. Lara made his only Test hundred against this opposition at this same venue 11 years ago, and West Indies would do well to ask Test cricket's highest run-scorer for a repeat act if they wish to keep this series alive.
The West Indies have lost 14 of their last 16 Tests and Stephen Fleming is determined to keep the pressure on them. "It was a theme we played on throughout the game (in Auckland), just thinking that when they got into a good position they were going to be uncomfortable because they haven't won for some time," he told BBC Sport. "There were a lot of times in the game where we could have been down and out, but they lacked the ability to bury us. We want to be playing better in Wellington."
John Bracewell, the New Zealand coach, has expressed his faith in the inexperienced top order while confirming that Hamish Marshall, Jamie How and Peter Fulton would bat at the same slots. "I can't speak for all the selectors but we've decided to continue with that combination for the [second] Test, and that's all we're concerned with right now," Bracewell told the New Zealand Herald. "He [Marshall] was slightly tentative, as were the other two - and as were all our batters on that wicket," he said. "Losing the toss, the anxiety of Test cricket, the desire to perform - I think some would've fallen into all those categories."
New Zealand have won 12 times of out of 44 attempts at the Basin Reserve in Wellington, a statistic that may play at Fleming's mind if he wins the toss. Fleming has called correctly eight out of the last ten times at this venue, and his decisions have been inclined more towards bowling first. The manner in which West Indies struggled against Bond at Auckland may well encourage him to do so again. Chris Martin bowled well in the first Test while James Franklin copped a little stick in the first innings, but then Fleming can take heart from the fact that Styris and Nathan Astle each chipped in with wickets at crucial times.
The manner in which the scales remain tilted towards the home side are glaring. West Indies can be forgiven for sweating just that much harder on the eve of the second Test.
New Zealand Hamish Marshall, Jamie How, Peter Fulton, Stephen Fleming (capt), Scott Styris, Nathan Astle, Brendon McCullum (wk), Daniel Vettori, James Franklin, Shane Bond, Chris Martin.
West Indies (probable) Chris Gayle, Daren Ganga, Runako Morton, Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul (capt), Dwayne Bravo, Dwayne Smith, Denesh Ramdin (wk), Fidel Edwards, Daren Powell, Ian Bradshaw.