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March 24, 2006
West Indies are hoping for a massive reversal of fortunes in the third and final Test against New Zealand in Napier starting on Saturday while the hosts are looking to pull off a clean sweep in preparation for their expected tough tour of South Africa.
New Zealand are looking to maintain morale before next month's tour while the West Indies will be seeking to snap a record losing streak and to avoid a 0-3 drubbing in the Tests to go with the 1-4 hiding they took in the earlier one-day series.
Despite their ten-wicket loss in the second Test in Wellington being the West Indies' eighth successive defeat, Bennett King, the coach, claimed spirits were still intact and a win was not as elusive as history would suggest. "We don't believe it's a skill issue, we believe it's an application and personal issue and we just have to be stronger as cricketers and people and we just have to go forward," he said. We truly believe this side are capable of much better than what they're doing."
While openers Chris Gayle and Daren Ganga have started each innings confidently, an apparent lack of concentration tends to creep in leading to wickets falling at regular intervals. The fact that Brian Lara is hopelessly out of form hasn't helped and with Shivnarine Chanderpaul also struggling for runs the West Indies have suffered from a lack of steel in the middle order.
While New Zealand's batting has not been consistent either, they have benefitted from injuries in the West Indies bowling camp although King has assured Fidel Edwards, their strike weapon and most impressive player on tour, would be fit for the third Test. Edwards, who was sitting on a hat-trick at the end of New Zealand's first innings of the last Test did not bowl in the second innings as a precaution against inflaming a leg injury. "He's got a little niggle in one of his legs. It's a jarring issue, but he's in no doubt for the third Test, King said. Jerome Taylor may also start after missing the second Test due to a hamstring injury.
Although New Zealand have the series wrapped up already at 2-0 they cannot afford to ease up as the selectors prepare to name the squad for next month's tour of South Africa. Questions are already being asked whether the West Indians have provided adequate opposition to prepare New Zealand for the tough three-match series in South Africa, while South Africa warm up against Australia.
But John Bracewell, New Zealand's coach, said he was satisfied with their lead-up programme. "I think this series is a good platform because they have got some very good cricketers. We're performing well as a unit at the moment and they're not." Bracewell said he had effectively pencilled in at least one extra seamer for the touring party of 15, while Michael Papps, the specialist opener, could also get a recall. Fledgling opener Hamish Marshall already knows there's a question mark over his head.
A year after being hailed as the new wonder boy of New Zealand cricket with centuries against Australia and Sri Lanka he has struggled after being made to open the innings, and Bracewell has said Marshall needs a big score in Napier or he faces the axe. He finished last season averaging more than 45 in Tests, while his last six Test innings, four as opener, have produced an average of 11.83. "I'm still getting used to opening, and instead of being so defensive in terms of survival I just have to go out there and play my shots," he said. "When you open you can get out early, and I have been, and it's frustrating because it's not through unplayable balls."
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