First test for new-look West Indies
June 8-12, 2014, Kingston
Start time 1000 (1500 GMT)
The Big Picture
West Indies have undergone a shake-up since they last appeared in whites. Darren Sammy has retired from Tests, Denesh Ramdin is captain now and their bowling looks vastly different. Kemar Roach has returned to full fitness. The selectors have also recalled Jerome Taylor, who will hope to end a four-year wait since his last Test cap, and made a last-minute decision to recruit Jason Holder.
The penetrative ability of West Indies' bowling has been a concern for a while but this squad - with Sulieman Benn and the returning Shane Shillingford as lead spinners - seems to have covered most bases. Sunil Narine was discounted from consideration after he could not meet an ultimatum to join the squad by June 1 owing to IPL commitments.
Shillingford has been a standout performer for his side of late - he has 51 wickets in his last nine Tests - but this series marks his return to international cricket since being suspended for a suspect action and New Zealand coach Mike Hesson has already voiced concern over how he will be monitored.
Recently any West Indies attack has been left mopping up a below-par batting performance. In the last 12 months, they have gone past 300 only twice and have also been guilty of doing well in one innings and failing miserably in the next.
Chris Gayle, who is scheduled to play his 100th Test at his home ground, would be eager to prove his fitness and provide a display befitting the fanfare for the occasion.
For the visitors, combating spin will gain top priority. New Zealand's batting - especially their in-form middle order of Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum and BJ Watling - does have the capacity to rise above their mental block against quality spin.
Utilising spin is where the greater concern lies. The search for Daniel Vettori's successor has been frustrating. Jeetan Patel complicated the situation when he remained with Warwickshire and withdrew his name from consideration for this tour. The result is that Ish Sodhi, with six Tests to his name, will feature as lead spinner. The 21-year old legspinner has shown some control and also glimpses of plotting a batsman out. To assist him is Mark Craig, a 27-year old offspinner who is yet to make his New Zealand debut.
Form guide(Most recent first)
West Indies LLDLL
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Watch out for
The vacancy resulting from Sammy's retirement has paved way for one of West Indies' most promising fast bowlers to return to the national fold. Jerome Taylor has not played a Test since November 2009. A troublesome back and hip have cost him several opportunities, but he returned to first-class cricket this season and finished as Jamaica's second-leading wicket-taker in the Regional Four Day Competition.
Kane Williamson is New Zealand's anchor. His technical purity assists in combating most adversities and swift and assured footwork ensures he is well-placed to tackle spin - he made 42 of the team's 60 as Rangana Herath ran rampant in the World T20. A rich season in 2013-14 has identified him as one of the most dependable batsmen in the current Test circuit.
New Zealand drained the two practice games they had to the fullest as Jamaica Select XI's openers batted twice in the second innings of the second match and the bowlers continued even after the home side was all out. Two notable positives were the performances of Sodhi, who picked up a five-wicket haul, and Craig, who claimed eight victims across two games. However, they suffered a pre-Test blow when Corey Anderson was ruled out with a neck injury. Concern also surrounds the opening combination. Both Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford have had lean seasons and Tom Latham, if picked, would be playing his second Test. Hesson had hinted at having settled on which two would head the batting order, but said it was a toss-up between Neil Wagner and Craig depending on how they assessed the pitch.
New Zealand (probable) 1 & 2 Two out of Hamish Rutherford/ Tom Latham/Peter Fulton, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Brendon McCullum (capt), 6 Jimmy Neesham, 7 BJ Watling (wk), 8 Ish Sodhi, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Neil Wagner/Mark Craig, 11 Trent Boult
West Indies' preparation for the series included a training camp in Barbados under the guidance of Garry Sobers, Curtly Ambrose and Richie Richardson. Gayle occupies the spotlight, both because of his landmark and for his fitness. He looked out of sorts in the IPL and had consulted a specialist in Germany regarding his back problem. Ottis Gibson, their coach, was hopeful of a full recovery. Gayle himself has said he is "fit, ready and raring to go." A late call to include Holder in the squad also indicates he might feature in the XI if they decide against a second spinner.
West Indies (probable) 1 Kieran Powell, 2 Chris Gayle, 3 Darren Bravo, 4 Marlon Samuels, 5 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 6 Kraigg Brathwaite/ Kirk Edwards, 7 Denesh Ramdin (capt & wk), 8 Jerome Taylor, 9 Sulieman Benn/Jason Holder, 10 Shane Shillingford, 11 Kemar Roach
Pitch and conditionsThe surfaces in the Caribbean have got slower in recent times, but the pitch for this match seems to be batsman-friendly. West Indies captain Denesh Ramdin has already said that he will look to bat first if he wins the toss, and that there was something on offer for the spinners from both teams. New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum said: "Looks a good wicket for batting, it is hard, looks like it has got no real grass, doesn't look overly quick." He also said he didn't expect any sideways movement off the track.
In addition to ground conditions, the visitors would have to account for a hotter climate. West Indies, who had struggled with Dunedin's chilly temperatures at the start of the 2013 series, would prefer the sun to be a more permanent fixture than the forecast of isolated thunder showers.
Stats and trivia
- Chris Gayle is 67 runs shy becoming the eight West Indian to 7000 runs in Tests
- Till 2000, spinners averaged 44.64 at Sabina Park. The number has since improved to 28.16
- Ross Taylor averages 51.25 at No. 4, with 10 of his 11 centuries coming at that position. The last time he batted at a different position was against West Indies in the Kingston Test of 2012. He came in at No. 5 and made a duck
- In three matches at Sabina Park, Jerome Taylor has taken 19 wickets, including a career-best 5 for 11
"Put percentages of how fit I am aside, no matter what, I will be fit, ready and raring to go. I would like to make the fans at Sabina Park happy and that will be my aim for this landmark occasion".
Chris Gayle is all set for his 100th Test
"We need some runs firstly, make sure we get over that 450 in the first innings that we have tried to aim for recently and achieved on occasions. If we do that, it gives us a pretty good starting point to get into the Test match."
Brendon McCullum on why New Zealand need to do
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo