Test lightweights scrap for rare success
Match factsJuly 25-29
Start time 1000 (1400 GMT)
Midway through the limited-overs leg of the tour, you felt sorry for New Zealand as, bereft of several seniors, they slid from defeat to defeat. Their stand-in captain Kane Williamson, all of 21 years old and looking even younger, earnestly defended his inexperienced team after Chris Gayle effortlessly dished out half-century after half-century.
Two senior batsmen, Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum, were available in the final two ODIs, and New Zealand will be further boosted by the arrival of two old hands, their man-for-all occasions Daniel Vettori and their pace spearhead Chris Martin. Their presence lifts a bowling line-up that looked pretty fragile during large parts of the one-day series, as does the inclusion of Neil Wagner, a man in whom New Zealand fans have placed an almost inordinate amount of faith.
New Zealand pulled off one of their greatest Test victories last year against Australia, and competed against South Africa in a home defeat. It's been more than a decade since they won a Test series away from home (excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe), and while they enter these contests as underdogs, it still presents them with their best opportunity for an overseas victory.
For that they need to find answers to the same players who gave them plenty of headaches in the limited-overs matches: Gayle and Sunil Narine. Gayle returns for his first Test in more than 19 months, and West Indies will hope that solves their top-order troubles; in recent series, West Indies have typically been three for almost nothing, leaving the middle-order facing a salvage job. Shivnarine Chanderpaul has been their rescuer-in-chief for years now, and his presence solidifies a batting line-up that was explosive but inconsistent in the one-dayers.
The focus will also be on Narine, who continued to be a match-winner in limited-overs matches, but is yet to show whether he can be similarly effective in the five-day game. His Test debut in England was a disaster, but on more familiar surfaces and in more comfortable temperatures, Narine should prove more dangerous. If he clicks, West Indies' chances of only their second series win in more than nine years (excluding Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) will be considerably bright.
Form guide(Completed games, most recent first)
West Indies DLLLD
New Zealand DLDWW
Watch out for...Neil Wagner, the South Africa-born left-arm seamer, has dominated the domestic scene in New Zealand in recent years. The days remaining till he qualified to represent New Zealand were eagerly counted down, and he was picked as soon as he was available. He impressed in the practice match, and with fast bowlers Trent Boult and Mark Gillespie injured, he is expected to make his Test debut.
Kemar Roach was on-song against Australia in the home series earlier this year, and troubled England's batsmen as well before pulling out of the tour with an ankle injury. The warm-up game against the New Zealanders was his first match since then, and he showed he was ready to go with a four-wicket burst in the first innings. With his raw pace, Roach provides West Indies with a genuinely threatening spearhead.
Pitch and conditionsThere were runs available in the warm-up match on the same ground if batsmen had the required patience, but there should be plenty of opportunity for the bowlers on this surface. Chris Martin, the New Zealand fast bowler, said: "The warm-up game showed us that if we're in the right areas for long enough the up-and-down nature of the pitch is probably going to get us results."
Gayle's return and the form of Marlon Samuels, who scored plenty of runs in the recent England Tests, means the batting burden on Chanderpaul is reduced. One of the harder decisions West Indies will have to take is who between Ravi Rampaul and Tino Best to pick.
West Indies: (probable) 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Adrian Barath, 3 Kieran Powell, 4 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 5 Marlon Samuels, 6 Narsingh Deonarine, 7 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 8 Darren Sammy (capt), 9 Sunil Narine, 10 Ravi Rampaul/Tino Best, 11 Kemar Roach
With Trent Boult injured, Wagner is expected to start, possibly the only change from the XI that lined up for the final Test against South Africa.
New Zealand: (probable) 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Daniel Flynn, 3 Brendon McCullum, 4 Ross Taylor (capt), 5 Kane Williamson, 6 Dean Brownlie, 7 Daniel Vettori, 8 Kruger van Wyk (wk), 9 Doug Bracewell, 10 Neil Wagner, 11 Chris Martin
Stats and trivia
- New Zealand last lost a Test against West Indies in Barbados in 1996. Since then, they have won five and drawn five.
- Chris Gayle is just 63 runs away from surpassing Gordon Greenidge as the highest run-getter for West Indies against New Zealand. Gayle has scored 820 runs in seven Tests at 74.54.
Quotes"A warm-up game is a warm-up game. We got what we wanted out of it. We were lucky to come away with the draw but most of the batsmen had a decent bat out there and the bowlers got a good trundle for one innings."
New Zealand's Ross Taylor doesn't want to read too much into his team's showing in the tour match
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo