New Zealand will look to change their fortunes when they take on West Indies in the first Test in Antigua on Wednesday. The tourists badly performed in the ODIs in the Caribbean and the Twenty20s in Florida, and this two-match Test series is their last chance to put things back in order.
West Indies’ captain Darren Sammy has already begun playing mind games, saying it would take a lot beating to deal with Narine in Caribbean conditions. The surface at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium at North Sound, which hosted the three-day tour match between the New Zealanders at the West Indies Cricket Board’s President’s XI, saw 17 of 28 wickets fall to spin. Shane Shillingford, the West Indies offspinner, took five wickets in the tourists’ second innings and Daniel Vettori six in the home team’s only innings, so Sammy’s talk of Narine being tough to play is understandable.
Narine, 24, has taken 20 wickets in his last seven limited-overs games against New Zealand, and none of the Kiwi batsmen looked comfortable against his guile and variety. Considering the Kiwis were left to play catch-up throughout the three-day practice game, there is enough reason to believe a turning wicket will be on view in Antigua.
Adding to New Zealand’s worries is the return of Chris Gayle, who hasn’t played a Test match since December 2010, and the No. 1 Test batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who missed the third Test against England due to a side strain last month. With Marlon Samuels also coming off a strong series in England, West Indies have a strong batting order though they will miss the services of the recovering Darren Bravo at No. 3. His replacement is likely to be Assad Fudadin, who made his Test debut in the final match of the England tour, but the fact that Narsingh Deonarine bowls handy spin could push his case for selection.
As far as West Indies’ fast bowling attack is concerned, tear-away pacer Kemar Roach will be the spearhead ahead of Ravi Rampaul and Tino Best.
For New Zealand, the fast bowler Trent Boult and the wicketkeeper-batsman BJ Watling have been ruled out of the first Test due to injuries, leaving 13 players available for selection for the Test. Watling’s injury means South Africa-born Kruger van Wyk will get a fourth Test cap and
the leading candidate to be picked as the third quick bowler is left-arm quick Neil Wanger, who took 3 for 65 in the tour game and scored crucial runs down the order. The 26-year-old could likely complete a three-man pace attack led by Chris Martin and Doug Bracewell.
"He has had to wait his time. He's got a very good first-class record and bowls with a lot of aggression," said New Zealand captain Ross Taylor of Wagner. "Neil Wagner has got a big chance to make his Test debut here in Antigua. He's an aggressive left-arm bowler who will be dangerous with the older ball as well, reversing it."
Taylor has a big responsibility on his hands to revive a dispirited bunch and he will need plenty of support from Daniel Vettori and Brendon McCullum, who played in the last two one-dayers but couldn’t do much. Vettori, returning to the side after a rest of three months, can cancel out Narine’s effect if he comes up with the performance he is capable of. His massive experience of 111 Tests is key to the visitors’ chances in the two-match series.
There is an outside chance that Vettori could have a spin partner for this Test in rookie legbreak bowler Tarun Nethula. But it is a slim possibility.
All said and done, West Indies will walk on to the field with the favourites’ tag on Wednesday. This is a golden opportunity for them to win a Test series against a proper team. In their last 10 home series, they have been victorious just once - against Bangladesh.
West Indies: 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Adrian Barath, 3 Assad Fudadin/Narsingh Deonarine, 4 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 5 Marlon Samuels, 6 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 7 Darren Sammy (capt), 8 Kemar Roach, 9 Ravi Rampaul, 10 Tino Best, 11 Sunil Narine
New Zealand: 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Daniel Flynn, 3 Kane Williamson 4 Ross Taylor (c), 5 Brendon McCullum, 6 Dean Brownlie, 7 Kruger van Wyk (wk), 8 Daniel Vettori, 9 Neil Wagner, 10 Doug Bracewell, 11 Chris Martin