'WI vs them'
Windies, New Zealand get first Test under way at Sabina’ today
WEST INDIES and New Zealand will go head-to-head in today's start of the first Test in Kingston with the home team's batsman Christopher Gayle, and the grass-covered batting square, sharing much of the spotlight.
Play is set to begin at 10:00 am at Sabina Park.
The Jamaican Gayle, on the verge of playing his 100th Test, has been struggling with a back injury, but has declared himself fit, thus fans are dreaming of a memorable display from him to mark the occasion.
Both camps have downplayed the role that the unusual grass-covered Sabina Park square could play for the quicker bowlers. In fact, the general consensus is that batsmen could make merry, though all are aware of Sabina's tendency to offer bounce and turn to spinners.
"We are not too concerned about the grass. It looks a good pitch," said West Indies coach Ottis Gibson on Friday.
Noting that the live grass rolled into the pitch will help to bind the surface, Gibson added that he expects it to be lower by the start of play.
"The grass [on pitches] in the Caribbean sometimes doesn't do much. More often than not it just holds the wicket together. When they shave a bit more off it's going to be a good pitch for cricket."
New Zealand Captain Brendon McCullum, though undecided whether to play an extra spinner or a third seamer, held similar sentiments about the batting strip.
"It looks a good wicket for batting. It looks hard and not overly fast," the 32-year-old said yesterday.
He, however, argued that the West Indies will be "tough opposition", particularly in the comfort of "familiar" home conditions.
Gibson is satisfied with the variety offered by his bowling group, boosted by the recall of the previously injured fast-bowling pair of Jerome Taylor and Kemar Roach, as well as the late naming of towering seamer Jason Holder.
Taylor, 29, last played a Test match in November 2009, while the 25-year-old Roach has been out since March last year.
In the slow-bowling department, there is off-spinner Shane Shillingford and the left-arm finger spinner Sulieman Benn.
The 31-year-old Shillingford, who has taken a whopping 51 wickets in his last nine Tests, was a major threat, as West Indies lost 0-2 in New Zealand last year; but soon after he had to undergo remedial work on a suspect bowling action. Benn, 32, last played a Test in 2010.
Another spinner, Sunil Narine, was overlooked after he missed the June 1 training camp deadline, owing to his commitments in the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL).
The batting is more of a concern for the West Indies.
The ever-green left-handed batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 39, remains the team's batting anchor. Newly appointed West Indies Captain Denesh Ramdin, the team's wicketkeeper /batsman, has been impressive of late, averaging over 40 in each of the last two calendar years in Test cricket.
Much will also be expected of Gayle, Marlon Samuels and company.
For the New Zealanders, often found wanting against good slow bowling, finding an answer to spin will be high on the agenda. But the visiting team possesses serious quality in the middle-order with the likes of Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson and McCullum.
Taylor, 30, was in cracking form at home against the West Indies, scoring 495 runs, including three centuries at 247.50.
The New Zealand pace bowling department is arguably as good as any around the world. The left-arm seam pair of Trent Boult and Neil Wagner, in tandem with Tim Southee, are more than a handful.
West Indies -- Denesh Ramdin (capt), Christopher Gayle, Kieran Powell, Kirk Edwards, Darren Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Jerome Taylor, Sulieman Benn, Kemar Roach, Shane Shillingford, Shannon Gabriel, Kraigg Brathwaite, Marlon Samuels, Jason Holder.
New Zealand -- Brendon McCullum (capt), Hamish Rutherford, Peter Fulton, Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson, BJ Watling, Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner, Ish Sodhi, James Neesham, Mark Craig, Tom Latham.