Teams keep one eye on World T20
With the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka now less than three months away, this weekend's two-match Twenty20 series in Florida presents an opportunity for players fighting to be included in the squads for the tournament to present their case.
For West Indies, these are their final two Twenty20 games before they head to Sri Lanka. New Zealand will play two more Twenty20s in India in the weeks leading up to their first matches in Pallekele. Both team's captains would like to see some players force their way into the squads picked for Sri Lanka with convincing performances in Florida.
New Zealand will be without key players, Daniel Vettori, James Franklin and Brendon McCullum, for this series. To accommodate their return for the World Twenty20, several players from the squad currently in Florida are likely to be squeezed out. New Zealand captain Ross Taylor hopes some of the less experienced players like Kane Williamson, Tom Latham and Dean Brownlie can make the most of any opportunities they'll have this weekend in order to give selectors something to think about.
"We haven't finalised our squad for the Twenty20 World Cup, and this is an opportunity for the youngsters and some of the fringe players to step up," Taylor said. Compared to two years ago, he says there's a noticeable difference in the quality of the pitch at the Central Broward Regional Park, with extra bounce now on offer. Something that could also help produce bigger scores than the first innings totals of 120 and 81 New Zealand managed against Sri Lanka in 2010 is the fact that the boundary rope has been brought in by about ten yards.
"We're expecting a lot more runs," Taylor said. "The boundaries have been brought in a long way since we've played here. They were right on the edges of the fence the last time, so I'm sure it will be a lot higher scoring game and a nice spectacle for the locals to come out and see."
"Most of us [the West Indies team] have not played here before, so we'll go out there and play it as we see it," West Indies captain Darren Sammy said. "These are the last two games before the ICC Twenty20 World Cup, so it's very important for us as a team."
New Zealand fast bowler Kyle Mills, who is one of seven New Zealand players making their return to Florida, also believes it will be a more batsman friendly track.
"Last time we were here, the wickets were probably a little low and slow," Mills said. "The practice wickets we've used for the last three days have been a lot bouncier and more consistent than what they were two years ago. I can't see the low scores that we had two years ago happening this weekend. I would say these wickets are very much like a subcontinent wicket in India, probably a bit bouncier than some subcontinent wickets. These wickets seem to favour the batters. I think there's going to be nice bounce, nice pace for the batters and a lot different from what we had two years ago."
The shorter boundaries in particular could mean a rampage is on the cards, especially from the likes of Chris Gayle. When asked what his plan was for Gayle, Taylor said: "Just to get him out." Gayle's return to the West Indies line-up definitely makes it more imposing, but Taylor says his side isn't about to back down.
"The likes of Gayle, Pollard, Bravo are obviously world-class players in their own right," Taylor said. "They're players we need to stop, but in saying that we've got our own players that are world-class and at the moment we've currently got the best Twenty20 batsman in the rankings in Martin Guptill, so it's going be a good contest."
While New Zealand's squad took on a greater role as cricketing ambassadors in their first appearance in Florida, that mantle is gladly being taken up by Sammy's West Indies side this time round. Officially, West Indies are the hosts despite playing in a foreign land, but Sammy says the local expats have done their best to make his side feel at home. Now they want to return the favour by putting on an entertaining show.
"We feel it's a home series for us and we feel welcome here," Sammy said. "I had some mangoes and it almost tasted just like the ones in St Lucia. We feel really good to be here.
"I understand they have a Caribbean-based population of over 500,000 people here. Come tomorrow, come Sunday, we expect the atmosphere to be similar like we're playing in St Lucia or Jamaica. We, as a team, are going to relish this opportunity and look to come out and entertain the fans because at the end of the day, they only watch [cricket] on TV and now they have an opportunity to see the players. We're going to go out there and play with that in mind."
Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey