A No.7 spot in the Test rankings is not the greatest incentive teams would want to compete for, but that's the situation both New Zealand and West Indies find themselves in at the end of a disappointing year. The upcoming Test series offers both teams an opportunity to attain a much-needed high amid declining fortunes - West Indies have won just one Test this year, against Sri Lanka in April, and lost five, while New Zealand, apart from three wins in four Tests against Bangladesh, have lost six of their eight matches.
New Zealand have more to lose: a series-defeat at home against another struggling outfit could have implications for the future of the game in the small nation, and may well be an indication of a more chronic slide in form. However, the home team will seek encouragement from their record against their opponents, having won five out of seven Tests since 1999.
Of the 12 Test series between the two teams, West Indies have won five and lost four, including three consecutive series-defeats since 1999. Their batsmen have let them down in Tests since 1999, averaging 25.92 per wicket as opposed to New Zealand's 37. However, the visitors will be keen to capitalise on New Zealand's dismal batting form this year, where their batsmen have averaged just 22.48 per wicket in Tests not involving Bangladesh. The West Indians have fared better, trading each wicket for almost 30 runs in seven Tests against Sri Lanka, South Africa, and Australia.
Note: Does not include Tests against Bangladesh
The current form of the West Indian batsmen is a contrast to their past performances against New Zealand. Shivnarine Chanderpaul who averages 35.13 in 11 Tests against the hosts with a highest score of 82, has been in stellar form this year, scoring 707 runs in seven Tests at 101. Chris Gayle, on the other hand, has had a fairly quiet year, averaging 32.85 in four games, but boasts an enviable record against New Zealand with 515 runs in five Tests, including 204 in an innings in a drawn game in Grenada in 2002.
Among New Zealand batsmen who have played at least five Tests this year, only two have averaged over 40 in 2008. Ross Taylor - who hasn't played a Test against West Indies - is the only one from the current squad with a 40-plus average (41.83 in ten Tests), while Stephen Fleming, who averaged 49.75 in five games, has retired. Iain O'Brien has been the pick of the New Zealand bowlers in 2008, with 30 wickets in eight Tests at 20.30.
The hosts have relied extensively on the services of their captain Daniel Vettori, who is the third-highest run-getter for New Zealand this year, and also the only player to have featured in all seven games against West Indies since 1999. He has captured 23 wickets - 22 of which have come in the five matches won by New Zealand - at 27.60. However, Vettori has struggled against Gayle, conceding 105 runs at a rate of over three an over and dismissing him just once in four innings. He has had more success against Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan.
While New Zealand have struggled with the bat, the bowling has proved to be the major worry for West Indies. All of their bowlers in the current squad have averaged over 30 this year, with Jerome Taylor leading with 22 wickets in six Tests. Daren Powell has had a particularly tough time this year - he is the third-highest wicket-taker for West Indies, but his 13 wickets in seven Tests have cost him 70 each.
The University Oval in Dunedin hosts the first Test, where New Zealand have played just one Test- against Bangladesh in January this year- and won by nine wickets. Napier, the venue for the second Test, however, has proved unfavourable for the home team, playing host to four draws and two losses - the 121-run defeat to England in March this year being the most recent.