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Player of the Match
Player of the Match

First Test Preview: New Zealand v West Indies

As if to emulate each other, both teams to contest this 1st Test have some injury worries.

The West Indies have a leg problem with Merve Dillon, almost a certainty to play in the Test, if fully fit. He was hit while batting in the nets on the penultimate day before the Test, during the last practice session.

Dion Nash, the bowling all-rounder from New Zealand, is also having some problems with his continuing injury foot from India.

Both will be very late starters, at best.

The pitch is very well looked after. The ground itself is wonderfully shorn. It is like a carpet even.

Speaking with the head Ground Curator, Doug Straughan, today, he suggested that the pitch will play well.

"The pitch will be lively, even quick. I think that it makes for good cricket. It may not be as good a pitch as the one New Zealand played India on last year, as there was too much rain here over the last few weeks, but it is a good pitch. I think a quicker pitch makes for much more positive cricket."

"The New Zealanders batsmen will have to play under those conditions when they tour the Caribbean, South Africa or Australia, so it is better that they learn now how to cope with quicker wickets. Also, the bowlers could use the help which they do not normally get on the slower pitches. New Zealand does have some good fast-medium bowlers and I am sure that they too would appreciate a bit of help with some extra pace. They will definitely hurry the West Indian batsmen up."

"The pitch is hard, but there would not be much green on the first morning of the Test. I expect that it will be a nice, fast, but even pitch."

Brian Lara looked so refreshed and relieved after the last work out that one could only believe that his confidence is high. Even the knock on Dillon's foot did not seem to worry the captain. Lara himself batted twice in the nets, perhaps making up for the lack of batting in the Auckland game.

Lara explains himself thus:

"I had two long hits in the nets and I feel pretty good. Most importantly, I think that the team feels very good. Everyone is very confident. Perhaps not overconfident, but fairly confident of doing pretty well. I think that tomorrow we will come with 11 players who are looking forward to doing pretty well for the West Indies"

"The great thing about how things stand now is that everyone is still up for selection at this stage and we will have to sit down for a pretty long time and then decide on an 11 which we think will win the Test"

"We are not only pleased about how things have gone over the last couple of days, but how things have gone since we arrived in New Zealand. There has been a great atmosphere around the team. The guys in the team have been bubbling all the time. This is what we have been looking forward to. Come tomorrow, you will have guys ready, willing and looking forward to doing well. Even the weather is fine for us. We hope it stays like this for the next five days. We are ready."

Indeed, the team looks very ready. Shivnarine Canderpaul, who made a double century against New Zealand "A", even suggested that he needed a Test series to getting him back to thinking and batting for long periods.

"One-day cricket spoils the batting. We, at least I, need a long stint and some time at the crease to enjoy my batting again. I am enjoying myself now. New Zealand is great with this fine weather today. I know that I will make some runs" Confidence oozes!!

The team is bubbly indeed. Whatever happens, a lot of the batting responsibility would fall on the slight shoulders of Chanderpaul, Lara, Jimmy Adams and Sherwin Campbell, who had two separate hundreds in the last game the team played. Form is not a problem here. At least, the books suggest that the batters are ready.

Ridley Jacobs too, as the wicket-keeper, has gotten some good runs, so he too is ready.

It will be interesting to see how the West Indies overall, and especially the batsmen, adapt to being involved in a Test match now, after not playing a Test match since May this year. They have been globe trotters, but only for one-day games. Batsmen tend to struggle more from such activity than bowlers.

Courtney Walsh will definitely play. He, with 423 wickets so far to his name, only needs another 12 wickets to pass Kapil Dev's world record of 434 wickets in Test cricket. It is entirely possible, even probable, that Walsh could get those 12 wickets in this two Test series. The headaches could come from the rest of the bowlers. Except for Franklyn Rose, with 11 Tests, no other West Indian bowler has as many as 10 Test appearances. Thus, Walsh's input will be as important as his guidance.

The die is now cast. There is no turning back now. The next game is the real thing. This is now the time for the big boys. Let us see how they play.

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