'Nigh on the perfect Test' - McCullum
New Zealand's captain Brendon McCullum has described debutant Mark Craig's work in the Sabina Park Test as "brilliant" and said that in winning inside four days, his team played almost the perfect Test. The 186-run victory was New Zealand's first in the Caribbean since the 2002 Barbados Test, and it was set up by their first 500-plus total away from home in more than eight years.
McCullum said he was particularly pleased with the way his men absorbed the pressure that built at times from the West Indians, including on the second morning, when they stumbled to 279 for 5 with the fall of McCullum's wicket. Jimmy Neesham's century and BJ Watling's 89 ensured a hefty first-innings total of 508 for 7, and in turning conditions that gave Craig and Ish Sodhi plenty to work with.
"Nigh on the perfect Test for us, I think," McCullum said. "Obviously a crucial toss to win and to be able to put 500 on the board certainly allowed us to dictate the game and brought our spinners into the game as well. You can't really fault the way we played, and we managed to absorb pressure at times as well.
"If you look at that second morning, we lost three wickets early in that session and then to get that partnership between Neesham and Watling, to be able to get us out of a sticky situation and then really ram home the advantage to be able to post a score in excess of 500, which in these conditions is always going to allow you to be on the front foot.
"It certainly didn't feel easy throughout the Test, whilst the scoreline may suggest it was. They presented us with some tough challenges. I thought their new-ball pair bowled exceptionally well. We had to play well to overcome that. I thought their spinners asked a lot of questions as well. For us to play away from home in spinning conditions against guys who are bowling well ... is a really good sign for us."
Although the spinners had a big total behind them, McCullum said he was still impressed by the way Craig and Sodhi, as well as Tim Southee in unhelpful conditions, stuck at their task and prevented any serious fightback from the West Indies batsmen. Craig finished with match figures of 8 for 188 and joined Stephen Fleming and Mathew Sinclair as the only New Zealand players to be named Man of the Match on Test debut.
"He was brilliant. I thought he went about his work and never was fazed at any stage," McCullum said of Craig. "The conditions were helpful but you've still got to be able to apply pressure over a long period of time to be able to then get the rewards later on with those sorts of conditions. For his first Test match, to be able to come in and settle into the group as quick as what he has is both a sign of strong environment and also a sign of Mark's character.
"It's a little bit different from our normal game plan, to have two spinners operating and base your last innings around that form of attack, so it was pleasing that both those guys, young and inexperienced, were able to succeed in these conditions and ultimately bowl us to a Test win."