New Zealand race to historic victory
New Zealand clinched the series with an emphatic ten-wicket victory over West Indies in the second Test at the Basin Reserve in Wellington. Bagging wickets at regular intervals, New Zealand's bowlers turned in another impressive performance to dismiss the opposition for 215 on a truncated fourth day. Hamish Marshall and Jamie How then knocked off the 36 required runs to take their side to a fifth straight Test victory, a national record.
Play began an hour late due to overnight and early morning rain, but matters looked much the same as the previous days, when New Zealand bowled with fire and to a plan and West Indies got stuck in a mess. Aggression got the better of Dwayne Bravo, who mistimed a hook shot off the nagging Chris Martin straight to Nathan Astle at square leg and New Zealand had made further inroads early into a session.
Denesh Ramdin almost followed suit, sweeping Daniel Vettori and getting a top-edge that landed just wide of Astle running back from the same position. But after a stern word from Shivnarine Chanderpaul, he too buckled down and the duo went into snail mode. Hardly playing an aggressive shot, Chanderpaul and Ramdin inched their way to the final over before lunch, adding just 38 runs in an hour and a half as New Zealand maintained an attacking line. Singles were scant, doubles virtually non-existent and boundaries only taken when Chanderpaul decided to chance his arm - on three occasions. When it seemed like Ramdin had overcome his jitters - his second aggressive shot had been a confident flick off the legs for four - and would resume his defiant stand with his captain, he made the most basic of errors. Failing to get behind the line of a flighted Vettori delivery on leg stump, he could only look on as the ball spun across him and clipped the top of off stump.
Two strikes to begin and close the first session, and New Zealand returned from lunch to make another. Chanderpaul, who had batted dourly to prolong certain defeat, fell shortly after the break when he played away from his body and gave Stephen Fleming his sixth catch at first slip off Kyle Mills. Mills then turned up the heat to nip out the tail as West Indies bettered their first-innings total, but just. Rawl Lewis stuck around for a belligerent 40 but could not do enough on his own to give New Zealand a good target to chase.
For New Zealand, the stand-out factor in this innings - where every bowler picked up a wicket - as well as the match, was the professionalism of the bowlers in the absence of Shane Bond, the best in the country by far. Martin was spot on from where he left off yesterday and set the tone for proceedings in the day. Quick and accurate, he tied the batsmen down with his impressive line and got the breakthrough with Bravo's wicket first thing in the morning and then added Ian Bradshaw later in the afternoon.
Vettori, brilliant with his control and loop and getting the ball to turn from sweet spots, tied Chanderpaul and Ramdin down - there were lbw appeals aplenty - and was rewarded for his parsimonious spell with Ramdin's wicket. Vettori was padded away numerous times and each batsman had his share of play and misses to Martin and James Franklin, who added two more wickets to make it seven for the match. Mills, not given a bowl in the first session, did a good job of wrapping up the tail in both innings. Astle's role with the ball was priceless, too. He bowled admirably, maintaining a wicket-to-wicket line and finishing with figures of 13-4-17-1 with the biggest wicket of them all, Brian Charles Lara.
Rain, gloom or shine, West Indies have failed to battle it out when it matters. If they squandered a fantastic start to a run chase at Auckland last week, then here at Wellington they just failed to get off the blocks. They can look back at this match and see themselves as performing below par in every aspect of the game, but perhaps none more so than their batting. Only Runako Morton and Chris Gayle passed fifty, and apart from Chanderpaul's stoic act today, no batsman looked capable of scoring runs and defending their wicket at the same time.
The batting spanned many modes over the course of two innings: Lara, Ramdin and Bravo all succeeded in hitting themselves back into the pavilion at least once, Morton and Ramdin withdrew into a shell and fell to basic errors in the second innings, while for Daren Ganga and Chanderpaul it was a case of trying to trying to balance caution and aggression but letting themselves get bogged down by their partners' fallibilities. Lara, with scores of 5, 0, 1 and 1 in the series, has fallen to a bad stroke one time too many and his indifference at the crease is a worry for a side desperately seeking a guiding hand. Barring a couple of inspired spells from Daren Powell and Fidel Edwards - the only fast bowler to achieve real pace and a hint of swing - the bowling has been pedestrian, while the fielding was a let down throughout the match.
These are two teams at opposite ends of the spectrum. If this was New Zealand's fifth straight win, and their ninth against this opposition, it was the eighth loss on the trot for West Indies, their worst in a glorious history of cricket. "To win a third match is definitely on, yes. It's something we're looking at, a 3-0 sweep," said a pleased Fleming after the match. If time lost due to rain and bad light is not taken into consideration, this was a three-day Test, and the tourists' current form and temperament does not bode well for them as the third Test at Napier follows later this week.
Dwayne Bravo c Astle b Martin 7 (129 for 5)
Mistimed a pull straight to square leg
Denesh Ramdin b Vettori 7 (156 for 6)
Turned and spun across him to clip off stump
Shivnarine Chanderpaul c Fleming b Mills 36 (163 for 7)
Outside off, played away from his body and sharp catch at first slip
Ian Bradshaw c Styris b Franklin 2 (189 for 8)
Good length on off, poked at and easy catch for second slip
Daren Powell c How b Mills 7 (210 for 9)
Drove at one way outside off, edge taken low at gully
Rawl Lewis c Astle b Mills 40 (215 for 10)
Pulled away in the air to a diving deep mid-wicket fielder
Jamie Alter is editorial assistant of Cricinfo