Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Key match-ups between New Zealand and the West Indies

It's not often that a test series in the Caribbean starts in July. Despite the unique time frame of this two match series, West Indies vs. New Zealand provides plenty to entice cricket viewers. The return of Chris Gayle to the test team is sure to boost attendances, and there is a genuine belief that the West Indies might win their first test series against major opposition since 2009. New Zealand will also have a point to prove after some really limp displays in the limited-overs leg of the tour, and with some reinforcements arriving in all departments, the contest between teams ranked 6 and 7 should feature some gripping battles.

Chris Gayle vs. Neil Wagner and Chris Martin

The West Indies have really struggled with their opening partnership in recent tests. Having Gayle back is a huge boon in this regard, his experience and authority providing some much needed stability at the top.

Against him in tandem are anti-aging prototype Chris Martin, and Neil Wagner, a left-arm quick originally from South Africa. Wagner boasts impressive credentials in domestic cricket, and many in New Zealand couldn't wait for him to finally become a citizen and be catapulted into the national team. Wagner should be a good foil to Martin's accurate line and length.

Whether Martin and Wagner can extract much from the pitch in Antigua is doubtful. Conditions are not necessarily going to be conducive to swing and pace, so the onus on the pair will be to use the new ball efficiently. If Gayle can successfully see out the opening overs, there is no reason why he shouldn't dominate the bowlers and lay the foundations for the Windies to score huge totals.

Daniel Vettori vs. Marlon Samuels and Shivnarine Chanderpaul

Having Vettori in the team is a huge bonus for New Zealand. His economical bowling allied with leadership and experience should ensure that the games don't drift past New Zealand. Vettori will be crucial in keeping check on the flow of runs, and will be expected to take wickets in conditions that should be to his liking.

Marlon Samuels has joined Shivnarine Chanderpaul in knuckling down and being a disciplined presence in the middle order. Samuels and Chanderpaul will both have to play well to ensure West Indies get good totals.

After both played so well in testing English conditions, they should be able to master the pitches in familiar confines. If Vettori varies his flight he has a chance of troubling Samuels. However, if the pitch stays low and slow, Vettori's trajectory can become quite easy for Chanderpaul and Samuel to negate a crucial component of the Black Caps attack.

Kemar Roach vs. New Zealand's top order

Kemar Roach is a genuine tear-away quick, and the bite he adds to the West Indies attack has been one of the main factors in the home team's recent improvements in test cricket. Lethal with the new ball, Roach can swing it both ways at an excellent pace.

Martin Guptill, Daniel Flynn and Brendon McCullum will have to be at their best against Roach. Guptill's best approach to surviving against Roach might just lie in going after him. If Guptill plays his shots against Roach, it could dampen the effect of the new ball, and might just allow New Zealand to settle in to their innings.

However, in the warm-up match Roach was lethal against the Black Caps, taking 4 wickets. With his confidence high, Roach can cause serious damage, and the onus will be on the Kiwi top order to mix vigilance and aggression to see out Roach. A task easier said than done.

Sunil Narine vs. New Zealand's middle order

This is the series when everyone is expecting Sunil Narine to arrive as a test match bowler. 15 overs in English conditions is simply not enough of a sample to make a judgement about this mystery spinner.

In the limited-overs format, New Zealand were simply clueless against his variations. How Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson tackle him in test cricket could yet be the defining battle of the series. The signs are not promising for the Black Caps however, as they succumbed to the less threatening spin of Shane Shillingford in the warm-up game.

The predicament for Taylor and Williamson is that they aren't sure if they should go after Narine and try to hit him out of the attack, or to play defensively and challenge Narine to breach their defence. If Taylor and Williamson succeed, they will have gained a significant edge for their team. However, if Narine manages to get them out, its highly unlikely that New Zealand will manage good totals.

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