WI in New Zealand – Preview

Less than two months after returning to the Caribbean from Australia, the West Indies trek halfway across the world once more, as they return to Oceania to battle New Zealand. Not since 1995 has the West Indies won a series overseas against opposition other than Zimbabwe. That victory came in New Zealand, sealed with a massive innings win in the second of two Tests.

Since, New Zealand has won three of six Tests between the teams, losing just once. They enter this series the same as any other host team when the West Indies are checking in – firm favourites.

This is a tale of two teams searching for an identity. New Zealand has mixed and matched line-ups in recent months in an attempt to find out exactly who the best players are, in order that they prepare for the 2007 World Cup. Similarly the West Indies team has posed a variety of combinations, but not at all due to luxury. Rather, contract disputes and general on-field ineffectiveness have plagued the Caribbean side, and it is evident to many that this tour is important if only to bring some sense of stability back into the game.

The Players:

West Indies Touring Party
Shivnarine Chanderpaul (captain), Ramnaresh Sarwan, Chris Gayle, Devon Smith (Tests only), Wavell Hinds (ODIs only), Daren Ganga, Brian Lara (Tests only), Runako Morton, Dwayne Bravo, Dwayne Smith, Denesh Ramdin (wicketkeeper), Rawl Lewis, Ian Bradshaw, Jerome Taylor, Fidel Edwards, Daren Powell (Tests only), Deighton Butler (ODIs only).

New Zealand ODI Squad
Stephen Fleming (captain), Daniel Vettori, Nathan Astle, Shane Bond, James Franklin, Peter Fulton, Jamie How, Hamish Marshall, Michael Mason, Brendon McCullum (wicketkeeper), Jeetan Patel, Scott Styris, Lou Vincent.

At a time when confidence is scarce and uncertainty prevalent, the West Indies would do well to remember the last time they toured New Zealand, if only to learn from the many shortcomings in a disastrous result. The home side romped home by a 2-0 margin in the Tests and 5-0 in the One Day Internationals, returning from a 276-run opening stand between Sherwin Campbell and Adrian Griffith on the opening day of the series. Indeed, that partnership served only as false warning, and the West Indies collapsed to a 9-wicket defeat after being bowled out for 97 in the second innings.

In 1995, Brian Lara scored 147 off 181 balls when the West Indies beat New Zealand by an innings and 322 runs at Wellington. That victory sealed a 1-0 series win for the visitors. It has been a truly torrid period for the West Indies since then, especially away from home. That only Lara and Chanderpaul play on from that, the last victorious overseas team, is indeed far from promising.

New Zealand will be further encouraged by recent form, having competed exceptionally with Australia for the Chappell-Hadlee trophy, then thrashed Sri Lanka by a 4-1 margin. Trotting across the spectrum, the West Indies team is left begging as far as form is concerned. Although there were positives to be gathered toward the end of last year’s tour of Australia, they were not enough to prevent a comprehensive 3-0 whitewash and prolong the much-documented travelling woes of Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s side.

Chanderpaul himself came under severe pressure for he non-performance of his team, and it is certainly a cruel desire of fate that he would now face off against one of the world’s most highly regarded captains, in Stephen Fleming. Amidst discussion of his replacement at the helm, Chanderpaul faces his toughest challenge yet, if only due to the media scrutiny levelled upon his every move.

For Fleming it is a somewhat calmer premise. Although Daniel Vettori has led the side with great verve and skill in his absence, there is no little question over Fleming’s capabilities and performance at the top of New Zealand cricket. With the support of the players and a growing reputation as a world class batsman, Fleming seems to hold all the aces ahead of this battle of captaincy.

It seems fitting that the tour should begin with a limited overs matchup, given the nature and disciplines of both teams. A Twenty20 international will serve as the curtain call for New Zealand great Chris Cairns, then the action moves swiftly to five One Day Internationals between two these teams that have been found more comfort in the shorter form of the game. Whether or not New Zealand can find a potent enough replacement for Cairns in their line-up may have a major impact on the series.

The musings and considerations of the impact of Cairns’ retirement have already been sufficiently stirred, and the series will thus provide many opportunities for New Zealand allrounders to truly stake their claims. Whether or not the West Indies can capitalize upon this point of instability will be a definitive factor.

In both teams, there is the potency to rise to the occasion and defeat any team on a given day, but to the credit of New Zealand, this potency has married consistency on a far greater level than that of the West Indies. Though the West Indies will be without a resting Brian Lara and New Zealand without Cairns, indications suggest that the clash will yet be entertaining at the least, with an expectation of keen competition at its side.

It shall serve as prelude to a three Test set, and will hopefully feed momentum into the series, and Lara returns as both teams suit up for their weaker discipline. The year was 2002 when last New Zealand met the West Indies in a Test match, and the scoreline was 1-0 to their advantage. The series was never short of action, with a maiden Test ton to Scott Styris, a maiden double hundred for Chris Gayle, and 12 wickets apiece to Shane Bond and Pedro Collins.

The cast is slightly different this time around, and it would take a brave man to predict the intricacies of the script. Daren Ganga and Rawl Lewis have been recalled to the West Indian front, whilst New Zealand juggles the young talents of Peter Fulton, Hamish Marshall and James Franklin, among a host of others.

Cricket Web’s Players to Watch:

West Indies – Dwayne Bravo
On the back of an outstanding tour of Australia, the world has its eye on Dwayne James John Bravo. Though he has been plagued by a run of decidedly terrible form since his return to the West Indies, expectations will be high and memories still fresh. Bravo played with great composure, courage and effectiveness against Australia, scoring 214 runs (53.50) and taking 8 wickets (25.12). His accomplishments included a second career Test hundred and a second 6-wicket haul, and it is not farfetched to expect that he would continue to progress on New Zealand soil.

New Zealand – Shane Bond
New Zealand’s only genuine pace threat, Shane Bond has constantly been plagued with injury over his 12-Test career. He made a successful return to the long form of the game in August of last year, blasting out Zimbabwe with 13 wickets in 2 Tests. However, he will face a truer test of his recovery when bowls to the superior batting talents of Lara, Chanderpaul and Gayle in the coming series. Given the concerns over Jacob Oram’s readiness as a bowler, the weight of the New Zealand bowling attack will once again fall squarely on Bond’s shoulders.

For all its other points of interest, the scenario of the comeback will feature very early in this confrontation, and it is the West Indies team that bears the spotlight in this regard. Ganga has not played a One Day International for the West Indies in more than three years, but has received yet another recall to the senior side amidst speculation that he has indeed matured as a player. Sharing the brunt of the same blend of expectation and doubt is the former least likely player to earn a West Indies recall – Rawl Lewis. Lewis is statistically the worst bowler in the history of the sport, with an average of 318 runs for his one wicket.

If the return of such a player is not enough to whet the appetite for the series, perhaps the presence of Brian Lara, arguably the best batsman of his era, will suffice. While there is no such clear star to pinpoint on the New Zealand team, that is exactly why they are favourites to win both series. The cohesive aspect is far stronger for the Kiwis than the West Indies, and though the series should be competitive, victory will be achieved by the group of players more willing to operate as a team.

The West Indies return to the last scene of celebration. Eleven years have passed since their last overseas triumph and New Zealand was the scene of the event. The hosts will be keen on extending the streak for at least one more series, but if there is any inspiration to be drawn by the West Indies from the history between these two teams, that 1995 triumph is surely the most significant. Eleven years is a long time, but evidence of England regaining the Ashes in 2005 proves that persistence breeds success.

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