By Tony Cozier
A Sore left hand that sidelined Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the overall lack of experience, the absence of an authentic all-rounder and a tricky pitch exposed the West Indies limitations before rain ended the first ODI against New Zealand after 35.4 overs yesterday.
By then, sent in by Daniel Vettori, they had laboured to 129 for five with Xavier Marshall and Denesh Ramdin together and only the four bowlers remaining.
Vettori reckoned afterwards that a total of 200 would have been a challenging chase in the conditions, not dissimilar to those in 2006 when the West Indies last played at the Queenstown Events Centre – and lost a low-scoring match by five wickets.
The seamers relished the damp surface. Kyle Mills, Mark Gillespie, Tim Southee and Jacob Oram found bounce and movement, if not always control, and required careful watching.
Yet the bowler who caused the major problems was, inevitably, Vettori himself.
His eight overs of left-arm spin variations kept umpire Mark Benson busy with a succession of lbw appeals and cost him a mere 26 runs for the key wicket of Ramnaresh Sarwan.
Sarwan was caught behind cutting after battling hard for 38 off 57 balls and sharing a partnership of 60 from 16 overs with Marshall after captain Chris Gayle and Sewnarine Chattergoon had been removed in successive overs.
Sarwan’s was a straightforward decision but Benson got his first one wrong, ruling Gayle caught behind when the West Indies captain’s stunned look as the finger was raised corresponded with the evidence of the television replay that he had missed the ball.
Gayle’s 25 off 36 balls contained just one typical Gayle shot, a casual pickup off the legs from Mills that sent the ball onto the roof of the Events Centre 100 yards distant.
Apart from that, his toil verified the state of the pitch. As it will be for the remaining four matches, his exit was significant to the direction of the innings.
Chattergoon was more solid but could make no progress before he deflected one from Southee back into his stumps, attempting to add to his hard-earned 14 off 35 balls with a single to third man.
Batting with due care and attention, Sarwan and Marshall settled things but so slowly that seven overs raised only 14 singles at one stage.
It wasn’t what the crowd, packed in for a prelude to the New Year’s Eve festivities in the town but huddled under umbrellas, raincoats and clothes more in keeping with a rugby match in winter, had expected.
Their excitement was provided mainly by an imitation of ice skating in the middle as Marshall and Sarwan, neither properly shod for the slippery conditions, took several tumbles running between the wickets.
Brenda Nash arrived at Sarwan’s dismissal, put together a few sparkling shots and then quickly left, bowled by Southee on the drive for 12 off 13 balls.
Kieron Pollard’s departure was even quicker, nibbling at his fourth ball and edging to the `keeper.
He occupied the spot that is waiting for Dwayne Bravo’s return but such weather and pitches are not for the big, hard-hitting right-hander. If they remain similar – and the forecast is for more of the same in the second match in Christchurch on Saturday – he will have a dismal tour.
As he trudged back to the pavilion, the rain clouds that had already caused a couple of brief stoppages were thick over the surrounding mountains. Once they reached the ground, there was never any likelihood of a resumption.
By then, Marshall had spent 59 balls over 29 with just two fours. In the circumstances, it was an encouraging sign that he appreciated that it is not always that he can indulge his liking for pretty strokes.