Test cricket is back with the hotly anticipated clash between New Zealand and the West Indies early next month. A disciplined, stylish batting line up and a potent varied bowling attack means the hosts are favourites and recent history reaffirms this with four wins for the Black Caps in the last five Tests between the two sides.
After a long absence due to a global pandemic and a feast of T20 franchise cricket, New Zealand's return to the Test arena comes with plenty of confidence and stability. They currently sit second in the ICC Test rankings and are only one point off No. 1 side, Australia. Over recent years, they have become a big challenge for any opposition sides, particularly at home, thanks to their reliable batting order and balanced bowling attack.
Their last two Test series delivered mixed results – a 3-0 defeat in Australia and a comprehensive 2-0 series win at home against India – and proved that they still have a way to go to become a complete side capable of winning in all conditions. Yet they now possess quality and depth rarely seen in their history before, giving them flexibility and better durability in the Test arena.
They are strong in the all-rounder department, and despite Colin De Grandhomme being ruled out of the series with a bone bruising to his right foot, the likes of Daryll Mitchell and Mitchell Santner more than capable of stepping in. The hosts' bowling is rounded and has genuine depth; Kyle Jamieson's eye-catching debut series last year in which he terrorised India and claimed nine wickets in two Tests is testament to the depth of NZ's resources as both Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson are waiting in the wings. The emergence of 25-year-old Jamieson, with his extra height and bounce, should provide good support and competition for the established trio of Trent Boult, Tim Southee, and Neil Wagner.
Bleary-eyed England fans will attest that the hosts know exactly how to bat at home and the top six is blessed with diligent and dashing batsmen; Jason Holder has it all to do. West Indies travel with hope but not with Hope (the glories of Headingley 2017 were, it seems, fleeting) and Shai Hope has finally paid the price for a miserable run of form. There is no doubt that the Windies are a promising and improving Test side but they will have their work cut out against a side that has lost just one of their last nine series at home. Their Test series in England during the summer was a perfect example of that, as a fabulous four-wicket win in the first Test was followed by two defeats by 113 and 269 runs respectively. Still, there is plenty to encourage their fans that Holder’s side can be a challenge for New Zealand.
In the batting department, they are particularly fragile and much will depend on Kraigg Brathwaite to provide a solid platform at the top of the order. The return of Darren Bravo should provide some much-needed experience and quality, while Jermain Blackwood and Shimron Hetmyer bring an x-factor to the middle order. Their bowling attack consists of the ever-dependable pair of Jason Holder and Kemar Roach, while Shannon Gabriel brings some important, if not at times wayward, pace. The Windies attack caused England problems in the summer and it could well do the same to New Zealand this winter.
Watch Out For:
It says a lot about New Zealand’s limited opportunities that Williamson, despite playing at Test level for over ten years, has only 80 matches to his name so far. You’d be forgiven to think how many more centuries would have been added to his current tally of 21 had his side secured more game time over the years. Still, with a superb average of just below 51, the Black Caps captain is a model of consistency and class at No. 3 and will be key to his side putting up big totals against a Windies attack that is likely to serve up plenty of scoring opportunities.
With over 200 wickets to his name but limited appreciation, Roach is perhaps one of the more underrated bowlers in the modern game. After exploding onto the international scene with searing pace, the 32-year-old has developed into a more controlled, consistent performer who challenges opposition techniques with accurate line and length bowling. He was once again impressive in England during the summer and his eight wickets at 36.50 did not tell the full story of his performances. Don’t be surprised if he causes more problems for New Zealand's batsmen during this series.
New Zealand Team News:
The Black Caps’ top order is relatively settled, as it the bowling attack, with the only tricky decision to be made around the lower-middle order positions. South African-born Devon Conway has been in excellent domestic form over the past year and could make his debut to add further depth to the batting. However, the all-round option of Daryll Mitchell, brought in to replace the injured De Grandhomme, could be the more tempting option to support the four-man attack.
T. Latham, T. Blundell, K. Williamson ©, R. Taylor, H. Nicholls, B. Watling (wk), D. Mitchell/D.Conway, M. Santner, T. Southee, N. Wagner, T. Boult
West Indies Team News:
The return of Darren Bravo bolsters an unpredictable Windies batting line-up, while the explosive Shimron Hetmyer could be preferred to Shamarh Brooks in the middle order. Holder, Roach and Gabriel are expected to lead the attack, and a decision will be made on the addition of a fourth seamer or a sole spinner, depending on conditions.
K. Brathwaite, J. Campbell, D. Bravo, S. Brooks/S. Hetmyer, R. Chase, J. Blackwood, S. Dowrich (wk), J. Holder ©, K. Roach, R. Cornwall/A. Joseph, S. Gabriel