A rare away start as favourites for New Zealand
June 16-20, 2014, Port of Spain
Start time 1000 (1400 GMT)
It's not often that New Zealand find themselves starting away Tests as favourites. But their near-perfect performance in Jamaica, and West Indies' hapless recent showings confer Brendon McCullum's men that unfamiliar status. Nearly everything they hoped for happened at Sabina Park - they got to bat first on a benign surface and racked up a score above the 450 they usually target, their inexperienced spinners thrived and there were significant contributions from a wide range of players as they remained on top right through the Test.
One of their biggest problems during the superb recent run in Test matches has been a serious shortage of runs from their openers, but even that changed in Jamaica as Tom Latham put together two battling half-centuries in what was only his second Test. Their talented pace attack has been their biggest strength in the past couple of years, and with the middle-order regularly churning out centuries and even the spinners chipping in with wickets, New Zealand will fancy their chances of winning their first away Test series against a top-eight opposition since 2002.
Two years ago when these teams faced off in the Caribbean, West Indies had swept aside New Zealand on their way to a six-Test winning run that lifted them to No. 5 in the rankings. Since that run, though, West Indies have lost three Tests by an innings, one by eight wickets, another by 186 runs and averted defeat in the remaining match only due to an over-my-dead-body double-century from Darren Bravo and rain.
Before the series began, West Indies made the big change of bringing in a new captain, dispensing with Darren Sammy. Then they revamped the bowling for the first Test, with Sulieman Benn, Kemar Roach and Jerome Taylor making their comeback. For this game, it is the batting that is getting an overhaul, with Marlon Samuels and Kieran Powell left out and Kirk Edwards battling for his place. Will the large-scale changes bring about a turn in their fortunes?
Form guide(Most recent first)
West Indies LLLDL
New Zealand WDWWW
Watch out for
Mark Craig was a little-known offspinner with a middling record when New Zealand's selectors punted on him for the Caribbean tour. He responded with four-wicket hauls in each innings of his debut Test at Sabina Park to win the Man-of-the-Match award and set up a famous victory. "I know Mark's a good bowler, but I didn't quite think he'd quite be as calm as he was from ball one," New Zealand coach Mike Hesson said. "I thought it would take him a bit of time to settle, but he settled in right from the start and bowled a great first over and he was away." Now the job for Craig is to prove that Jamaica wasn't a one-off performance.
It's not very often that New Zealand's spinners outbowl their counterparts in a Test. Sulieman Benn had complained about the flat nature of the Sabina Park track after the second day, only for West Indies to lose 20 wickets over the next two days. West Indies' spinners need to turn in an improved performance in the second Test, despite facing bigger challenges; Shane Shillingford was nursing a niggle on the eve of the game and racing to get fit, and the track is expected to be more pacer-friendly. Still, whoever does play needs to do more against a line-up that is not traditionally known for its prowess against the turning ball.
Team newsNew Zealand have already made one change to their side - dropping the woefully out of form Peter Fulton, and bringing in Hamish Rutherford. Depending on the nature of the track, they will also take a call on whether to pick an extra quick for the spinner Ish Sodhi.
New Zealand: (probable) 1 Tom Latham, 2 Hamish Rutherford, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Brendon McCullum (capt), 6 Jimmy Neesham, 7 BJ Watling (wk), 8 Neil Wagner/Ish Sodhi, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Mark Craig , 11 Trent Boult
Shane Shillingford has a niggle, Ramdin said on the eve of the Test, so the team would have to wait on his fitness.* Either way, he said, he is mulling playing the extra quick. With Darren Sammy retired, and Dwayne Bravo injured, they are struggling to find an allrounder for the Test side. West Indies' batting will have at least two changes as a result of the changes to their squad; Ramdin said he might play one of the two batsmen who were brought in after doing well for the Sagicor High Performance Centre, Jermaine Blackwood and Leon Johnson.
West Indies: (probable) 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Kraigg Brathwaite, 3 Kirk Edwards, 4 Darren Bravo, 5 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 6 Leon Johnson, 7 Denesh Ramdin (capt & wk), 8 Sulieman Benn, 9 Jerome Taylor, 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Shane Shillingford/Shannon Gabriel
Pitch and conditions
On Sunday, Kane Williamson suggested that there might be a bit more in it for the quicks than Kingston. Kemar Roach also said the pitch would aid the seamers, while Denesh Ramdin said he expected good carry for the bowlers on this track. "A bit more grass than Jamaica. The ball will edge and go to the slips area," Ramdin said. Temperatures are expected to be in the low 30s, and rain is predicted over the next week.
Stats and trivia
- Shivnarine Chanderpaul is tied with Steve Waugh on 46 unbeaten Test innings, the most by a specialist batsman. There are six others ahead of him in the overall list, but all of them are tailenders, including quintessential ones like Chris Martin, Muttiah Muralitharan and Courtney Walsh.
- The only person to score hundreds in his first three Tests is former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin. Jimmy Neesham can emulate him if he makes a century in Port-of-Spain.
- The player to have bowled the most overs in Test cricket in the current West Indies squad is Chris Gayle, with 1154.5 overs.
"Adapting to the conditions was a focus and something we did very well in the first Test, something we want to continue doing well in this series."
*3.45GMT, June 16: The team news was updated after Denesh Ramdin spoke on the eve of the game
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo