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December 25, 2008
After no results in a drawn two-match Test series, it's understandable that both New Zealand and West Indies would be desperate to slip into a new format with hopes of notching up a result. While neither side has really been comfortable in Test cricket this year, it might be stretching it to say they're more comfortable in Twenty20. New Zealand haven't proven a very good Twenty20 side, as five wins in 16 outings indicate. In fact, they've lost their last seven matches, dating back to September 2007. West Indies have just three wins from eight games - in the ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa last year, they lost both their matches and a six-wicket defeat at the hands of Bangladesh was particularly galling.
It is against that scenario that the two teams move into the limited-overs leg of the tour - starting with a pair of Twenty20 matches before five one-day internationals. The venue for the first game on Boxing Day is Auckland's Eden Park, where the two teams have played just one Twenty20 match, in February 2006, which resulted in a tie when both teams scored 126.
While these two Twenty20 matches will ideally provide a platform for results after the Tests ended without a definitive winner, both sides will need to pick themselves up. Seven of the current West Indies squad were part of the Stanford Superstars side that won the US$20 million winner-takes-all Standford 20/20 for 20 extravaganza in Antigua last month, so that should give the side plenty of confidence.
Twenty20 form guide (last five games, most recent first)
New Zealand LLLLL
Watch out for
Beyond a doubt, Chris Gayle, the only man to hit a hundred in international Twenty20 cricket. Gayle has enjoyed a successful Test and ODI year, and has always enjoyed himself in cricket's shortest version, where he averages 38.60 after five games. Gayle didn't play West Indies' last three Twenty20s, and would be itching to free those arms now that his troublesome groin has eased up. There are few more powerful hitters than Gayle, and on a small Eden Park, New Zealand will hope to see his back early.
Denesh Ramdin's appointment as Gayle's deputy for the limited-overs leg of the tour came as a surprise - he had been dropped from ODI squad for the tri-series in Canada in August and the postponed Champions Trophy and has averaged 14.11 from 33 ODIs since January 2007 - but could be a trump in the Twenty20s. Ramdin steered Trinidad & Tobago to the US$280,000 prize in their clash with fellow domestic champions Middlesex in the Stanford Super Series and, with 91 runs from three games, finished as the second highest run-getter.
Jacob Oram returns after missing the drawn Test series. He was also sidelined for the Australia series in November because of a back problem which had forced his early return home from the tour of Bangladesh and New Zealand coach Andy Moles was glad to have the hard-hitting allrounder back. "We've got a competitive side and we'll welcome back Jacob Oram to the Twenty20 side and I think we've got a really strong side," said Moles.
Think of Brendon McCullum and audacious batting comes to mind. Think of McCullum batting on one of New Zealand's small grounds, and you shudder just a bit. After a poor Test series, McCullum is back for this contest, and may just take out his ire at being incorrectly given out in the second innings in Napier. Sufficed to say, this man's itching for another bout of big hitting.
New Zealand's line-up will look virtually the same to those who watched them in action in the Tests, with nine of that squad line-up expected to play a part. McCullum will move up the order yet again, from No. 6 to No. 1 this time, and New Zealand will be boosted by the return of Scott Styris, whose attacking batting is matched by some nagging military-medium seam bowling. Jesse Ryder, who was New Zealand's highest run-scorer in the Tests, will take pleasure in the opportunity to play his shots with disdain. The only new face in New Zealand's squad is the 29-year-old Central Districts medium-pacer Ewen Thompson, but with allrounders Tim Southee and James Franklin in the squad Thompson's chances are slim.
New Zealand: (possible) 1 Brendon McCullum (wk), 2 Jesse Ryder, 3 Daniel Flynn, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Scott Styris, 6 Jacob Oram, 7 Tim Southee, 8 Daniel Vettori (capt), 9 Kyle Mills, 10 Mark Gillespie, 11 Jeetan Patel.
West Indies will have a new-look opening pair compared to the Tests with Xavier Marshall likely to partner Gayle. Shawn Findlay and Brendan Nash will compete for a middle-order spot while the allrounder Kieron Pollard, who scored 120 runs in two innings in the WICB Cup which T&T won, as well as taking nine wickets at 14.22, might play if West Indies want to rest one of their strike bowlers. The left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn, who has a good domestic Twenty20 record, should get preference over Nikita Miller, who was the leading wicket-taker during the first-class season with 42 victims.
West Indies: (possible) 1 Chris Gayle (capt), 2 Xavier Marshall, 3 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 4 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 5 Brendan Nash, 6 Kieron Pollard, 7 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 8 Jerome Taylor, 10 Sulieman Benn, 11 Fidel Edwards.
Pitch and conditionsThe Eden Park pitch has traditionally suited batting, not always providing the bowlers sharp bounce or speed, and there could be more of the same for this Twenty20 outing.
Weather: The Auckland forecast says partly cloudy, but by the time the match starts the conditions should have cleared up and a cool evening is on the cards.
Stats and Trivia
Quotes"I am just trying to stay relaxed and confident. It will be nice to walk out of the sheds and get the first ball under my belt and then start trying to compete."
"The West Indies love to play calypso-style cricket and will be a dangerous side but I'm sure we'll give a good account of ourselves."
Moles respects the opposition but believes his side will be competitive.
A look at some of cricket's most memorable strokes - and their makers