<
>

That's the history-making out of the way, now for the consistency

New Zealand manager Jeff Crowe predicted, right at the start of the tour of the West Indies, that rain would have a significant role to play in the series.

And it did, although it was confined to the last day, and session, of the series by which time New Zealand had held out the West Indies' spinners long enough to ensure the TelstraClear Black Caps would return home with another piece of history to their credit - a first Test win in the Caribbean, and a series win as well.

It completes what has been a remarkable season for New Zealand, one that reflects the highs and lows of the modern Test scene.

A tour of Pakistan postponed with the players en route in September, a gutsy and respect-winning tour of Australia with positive cricket and match-planning evidence of the professionalism of the side's backroom boffins, a matter-of-fact home series win against Bangladesh, followed by an inside-out drawn series with England, another below par effort in Sharjah, a record thrashing by Pakistan before the tour was blown apart by a terrorist bomb, and then the West Indies triumph.

Captain Stephen Fleming's stature has grown, as his team has developed more experience, and it is deserving of its third-place ranking on the ICC Test Championship.

Of more concern is the failure to string together consistency in the one-day game, something that will need to be addressed in the remaining countdown to the World Cup.

However, in the absence of Chris Cairns from all but the first day of the first Test against England, and his last hour batting, New Zealand has achieved a measure of success that bodes well for its immediate Test future.

Central to this has been the emergence of Shane Bond. Having a fast bowler in the armoury is always a highly-effective weapon and there is no doubt that he caused the West Indies some distinct discomfort.

Yet, victory over England was achieved without him, when Daryl Tuffey stepped up in such outstanding fashion.

With Bond, Tuffey, and the continuing investment in Ian Butler, there is a much wider spread of wicket-taking pace men. Add to them Chris Martin, Cairns, Shayne O'Connor and Andre Adams when they have recovered and Kyle Mills also looking to get back into the fray and there is some genuine cause for optimism in New Zealand's Test future.

Handling the options then becomes an exercise for the selectors and some careful management of resources will be the key.

The development of Scott Styris was probably the most important thing to come out of the West Indian tour and his success, especially with the bat, has probably had the most severe consequences on the future of Chris Harris' Test-playing career.

While there were concerns with the batting in Pakistan and the West Indies, New Zealand got through. Craig McMillan appeared to hit a low patch. Nathan Astle's contribution was largely confined to his second innings 77 at Bridgetown, a significant contribution for all that, and his 69 in the first innings in Grenada.

But for New Zealand to be at maximum impact with its batting, Astle and McMillan both need to be firing consistently while Mark Richardson, Lou Vincent and Fleming have all made significant progress throughout the summer.

Getting the mix in preparation right will be the key for next summer. It is for all intents and purposes, a limited overs summer.

There are two Tests against India, but that is the lot until after the World Cup. There is the ICC Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka, the home series seven One-Day Internationals against India, and the Cup.

But to maintain its status as the third-ranked Test playing nation, then New Zealand must win the Test series against India. It won 1-0 last time in New Zealand.

Challenges aplenty face the side after they take some weeks off before beginning their preparation for Sri Lanka, but they can return home well satisfied with their season and there must be every chance of better days ahead on the immediate cricket horizon.