Stage set for a Gayle explosion
...As New Zealand declare on mountainous 508 on day two
LEFT-HANDER James Neesham hit his second Test century in as many outings as New Zealand declared on a huge 508-7 against the West Indies on yesterday's second day of the first match at Sabina Park.
But expectant home fans are looking to Christopher Gayle, playing in his hundredth Test, to provide the perfect riposte when West Indies resume today from their overnight score of 19-0.
Gayle is unbeaten on eight, while fellow left-handed opener Kieran Powell is on 11.
Play is scheduled to begin at 10:00 am.
Scores: New Zealand 508-7 decl'd (174.3 overs); West Indies 19-0 (9 overs) .
Just as it was on day one, the run-rate was far from electric, but some would have appreciated New Zealand's tactic to painstakingly bat their way into an almost invincible position.
Unlike on Sunday's first day, which had the venue filled to a third of its capacity, today, the stands were sparsely-populated -- predictable for a workday.
The main highlight on an easy-paced pitch was the achievement of the fluent Neesham, who became the first New Zealander to make centuries in each of his first two Test matches after an unbeaten 137 in a draw against India in February.
The 23-year-old Neesham, who made 107, modestly played down the relevance of the feat and added that tasting a victory in a Test is what he craves for.
"It's very pleasing obviously, although in the first Test we had a draw and this Test it's looking quite flat so I think the major milestone will begin with that first Test won. Obviously, individual stuff is nice, but the reason to play is to win the game," he said in a press conference.
Of his team's chances of making inroads today, he added: "There is a little bit of turn and bounce when the bowlers put it in the right areas, so if we can get a couple of early wickets tomorrow it will be interesting to put them under some pressure."
West Indies left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn, who toiled for 3-142 off a staggering 52 overs, said he expects a strong reply from Gayle and company.
"Obviously 500 is scoreboard pressure. As we can see the pitch is fairly easy to bat on, flat as far as I'm concerned. We should be fairly comfortable seeing the nature of the pitch. Chris would want to do well, it being his hundredth Test match and we got some young guys who need to get some runs," he told reporters.
Yesterday, the visitors started on 240-2 with middle-order batsmen Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor unbeaten on 105 and 34, respectively.
Williamson thrilled with an attractive innings, but early on he misjudged the line of a straight delivery from Benn and was bowled. He ended on 113 - his sixth Test century - off 298 balls.
Ross Taylor supported well with 55 before miscuing a leg-sided flick to Kirk Edwards at a straight midwicket position off the off-spinner Shane Shillingford, who ended with 3-145 off 46 overs and three balls.
Captain Brendon McCullum, who made 302 against India in his previous Test outing, was sent back for seven when a delivery from Benn, jumped sharply and turned, clipping the bat and deflecting from wicketkeeper Ramdin's glove for Gayle to take at first slip.
That was the last wicket of the first session and none fell during the post-lunch stanza as Neesham and pesky wicketkeeper/batsman BJ Watling piled on 201 for the sixth wicket.
After no sixes in the match previously, the confident Neesham, showing no mercy to any loose delivery, effortlessly hit two in the 137th over with lofted drives down the ground off Shillingford.
Neesham reached the magical mark when he stroked two runs off Taylor into the deep cover region.
He was eventually caught by wicketkeeper and captain Denesh Ramdin off Benn at 480-6. Initially, the standing umpire gave a not-out verdict and the batsman held his ground, but Ramdin immediately went for the review and the television replays showed the ball had brushed the bat's edge.
Chasing quick runs, Watling went for a leg-side slog and was caught at deep midwicket by Powell off Shane Shillingford for 89.
West Indies faced nine overs before the close and were fortunate not to lose a wicket.
Powell on eight, was dropped by second slip fielder Peter Fulton -- a failure with the bat in New Zealand's innings -- in the fourth over when the batsman poked at a full angled delivery from pacer Tim Southee.