Flynn shores up shaky top order
The changes made by New Zealand's new coach, Andy Moles, in the wake of the batting disasters in Australia ensured the team held the edge over West Indies on a truncated opening day at the University Oval. His decision to push Daniel Flynn to No. 3 and slot Jesse Ryder down at No.5 proved a masterstroke of sorts as both managed half-centuries before bad light forced an early finish with more than 16 overs remaining.
Flynn was one of the few performers in Australia; his strength then was his durability at the crease but today he revealed a classier side to his batting, looking to push the scoring and peppering the off side with boundaries. A hundred was there for the taking against a bowling attack lacking penetration but he fell - to an umpire referral - five short of it. Ryder played his part in a stand of 61 with Flynn and remained unbeaten on 54 before the players walked off the field.
The consensus before the match was that whoever won the toss would bowl. But with clear skies and a strong breeze drying things out, and with the brown but grassy pitch offering little to the bowlers, the brains trust changed their mind and Daniel Vettori's choice was generally approved of.
As if inspired by the Obama theme of 'change', New Zealand reassessed themselves after the 2-0 drubbing in Australia. Tim McIntosh was brought in as an opener for Aaron Redmond but New Zealand's 18th opening pair in the last 36 Tests had put on 10 runs when Jamie How perished off an uppish slash to point.
It was a blessing in disguise as it brought Flynn early to the crease and his positive energy compensated for McIntosh's nervous start. McIntosh took 38 balls to get off the mark and when he did it was with a desperate slash an inch over the hands of gully. He survived more than a few alarms before finally calming his nerves with a sweet pull. His confidence thereafter built visibly, although he looked technically flawed against anything aimed at his head, taking his eyes off the ball and trusting in swipes.
Flynn, on the other hand, was a picture of confidence. His free-flowing drives through the off side were an indication of his form and he was comfortable against seamers and the offspin of Chris Gayle. At one point Gayle looked to stifle him with two short extra covers. It worked for a while but, as the ball lost its shine and the bowling its direction, Flynn found runs easy to come by. Shortly after getting his fifty, with a nudge off Gayle to square leg, he picked Edwards for two boundaries through the off side, slapping the second one over cover.
It was not the best day for the four-man pace attack. They tended to persevere with a line outside off stump that betrayed a defensive mindset. Sensing their ineffectiveness, Gayle brought himself on and picked up three wickets.
However, one of those was a giveaway. McIntosh tried to open up after lunch but fell while trying to loft Gayle over mid-on and a tumbling catch by Lionel Baker sent him back for 34. Ross Taylor, after a breezy start against the seamers, tried to launch Gayle over fine leg but was deceived by one that didn't turn and the slog sweep landed down Xavier Marshall's throat.
That didn't jolt New Zealand's progress as Ryder took his demotion in the batting order in his stride and went for his shots, with the ball having lost its shine. He peppered the point and cover regions with boundaries and brought up his fifty with a pull.
With Franklin and Vettori still to come, New Zealand bat deep and a big total looms. Play will start half an hour early tomorrow to cover for lost time.