It's been exactly nine months since we last saw the New Zealand team in whites. In March earlier this year, Kane Williamson's side lifted the trophy in Christchurch after beating the then No. 1 Indians 2-0 in the Test series. Now, in December, as the cricketing world adapts to the new normal, Test cricket is back in New Zealand after a round of T20Is last week, against West Indies.
The format switch shouldn't be too big a deal for either team playing tomorrow - only three of the players from the New Zealand T20 group are part of the Test squad, while only two West Indies players feature in both the T20I and Test sides.
Just six Tests have been played - across two series, involving three teams - in the last eight months, and West Indies have been part of three of those. That's relatively good prep in these circumstances, although several New Zealand players featured in four rounds of the domestic Plunket Shield recently and both New Zealand and West Indies have played two warm-up games on the sidelines of the T20I series. West Indies were exceptional with the bat in both games - there were three half-centuries, one century, and a double-century against the second-string New Zealand side.
In July, West Indies went 1-0 up for the first time in England since 2000. In the last 25 years - since February 1995 - they haven't won a Test match in New Zealand, losing eight and drawing four. The last time they toured New Zealand, it was Trent Boult and Neil Wagner wreaking havoc, and it might not be too different this time around, at least in terms of pace calling the shots. West Indies have their enforcers too - Shannon Gabriel, who bowled a match-winning spell in Southampton, and Kemar Roach, who toiled endlessly throughout the England series, as the main men. They also have all the preparation they could have asked for - more time in the middle than their opponents, in-form batsmen, and a well-rounded bowling attack.
From the point of view of the World Test Championship, the series is a big one for New Zealand, who are currently fourth in terms of percentage points won. A series win could see them displace England at No. 3, while West Indies, who are currently third from bottom, could move up if the results go their way.
Form guideLast five completed matches, most recent first
New Zealand: WWLLL
West Indies: LLWWL
In the spotlight
Will Young, who has been the back-up batsman for a while in the New Zealand side, is all set for his Test debut. The 28-year-old was primed to be part of the Christchurch Test against Bangladesh last year in place of the injured Williamson, but the match was cancelled after the terror attack. He made 64 and 133 against the West Indies A side in the two warm-up matches in Queenstown before scoring a century in the last Plunket Shield round for Central Districts. It's been quite a long wait for him and he would be looking to make the most of this opportunity.
Internet searches for Jermaine Blackwood would have probably spiked after his 95 in the first Test against England in July. He returned to the West Indies side last year on the weight of his first-class performances, after falling out of favour in 2017, and might not have featured in the England series at all had Shimron Hetmyer and Darren Bravo not opted out. Before the pandemic curtailed the West Indies domestic season, he was the tournament's top scorer with 768 runs in 15 innings for Jamaica. After playing for Jamaica Tallawahs in the CPL, he switched to red-ball mode in no time, slamming a half-century in the second tour game in Queenstown.
Kraigg Brathwaite has been unstoppable. Prior to the 246 and 47 he made in the two-warm up matches, he was good in the two Tests against England in June as well, hitting two fifties in four innings. That follows a good run of form in the past year, where he also made 468 runs in eight innings for Barbados in the domestic first-class season.
Williamson has confirmed that Young would be replacing the injured BJ Watling in the New Zealand line-up. He will open with Tom Latham, while Tom Blundell will take the wicketkeeping gloves and move down the order. Daryl Mitchell, who was named replacement for Colin de Grandhomme could also get a game here. To work around the pace-bowling quartet, New Zealand could bring in left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner - named cover for the injured Ajaz Patel - as head coach Gary Stead earlier said it would be "unusual not to play a spinner in Hamilton".
New Zealand (possible): 1 Tom Latham, 2 Will Young, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 Tom Blundell (wk), 7 Mitchell Santner, 8 Kyle Jamieson, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Neil Wagner, 11 Trent Boult
The return of Bravo and Hetmyer, who had opted out of the England tour, would add some solidity in the West Indies' batting order. The absence of Shai Hope, who was omitted after a poor run in the format, could mean Blackwood could still be part of the side after displaying good form prior to this series.
West Indies (possible): 1 John Campbell, 2 Kraigg Brathwaite, 3 Darren Bravo, 4 Shamarh Brooks, 5 Roston Chase, 6 Jermaine Blackwood/ Shimron Hetmyer, 7 Shane Dowrich (wk), 8 Jason Holder (capt), 9 Alzarri Joseph, 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Shannon Gabriel
Pitch and Conditions
The forecast is for a cloudy morning with occasional spells of rain in Hamilton tomorrow.
Stats and trivia
- New Zealand have a 4-0 win-loss record in their last six Tests in Hamilton: they have beaten Sri Lanka, Pakistan, West Indies and Bangladesh, and drawn against South Africa and England. Their last defeat here was in 2012, against South Africa.
"I think it's a format that we haven't done well for in a long time and we're trying to get ourselves back into the higher ends of the table where Test cricket is concerned and because of that initially we want to do that in the Test Championship but at the same time we want to be winners in Test cricket itself."
West Indies head coach Phil Simmons
"He's been around the environment for some time without getting his first opportunity so I think that's also a real positive. He's an experienced player, has played a lot of first-class cricket and to a very high standard and he deserves that opportunity."
New Zealand captain Williamson on debutant Young
Sruthi Ravindranath is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo