KINGSTON, Jamaica, CMC – A new look West Indies will seek to atone for a recent nightmare run, when they face New Zealand in the first Test at Sabina Park starting here today.
Heavy losses on tours of India and New Zealand in November and December last year left the Caribbean side in disarray, and they now need a strong showing in order to recoup badly damaged pride.
The game is expected to mark Chris Gayle’s 100th Test, providing the ideal platform and the ultimate motivation for the Caribbean side to produce something special, and set the tone for the three-Test series.
For the first time in nearly four years, West Indies are under new leadership with wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin having been appointed in place of all-rounder Darren Sammy who led the side since late 2010. And the Trinidadian, who has served as vice-captain on several occasions in recent years, says he hopes to mark the occasion with a positive result. “It is a special moment for myself, Chris Gayle and the West Indian people. The pitch looks like a good one. If we play consistent cricket for the next five days I think it is going to be a good result,” Ramdin told reporters here Saturday. “Looking at it (pitch) today, it looks like a good batting track. It will crumble by the third and fourth day. Hopefully the spinners in both teams will have the opportunity to get wickets. Once they are consistent and find good areas, it looks like it will bounce and spin so hopefully the spinners we have can exploit that.
“Our seam bowlers as well – we have a good [seam attack]. If we can pick up early wickets, [hopefully] we can put them under some pressure.”
He added: “Whichever captain wins the toss will bat. It looks like a good one. Putting runs on the board first will be good for our batting unit. [We will] try to bat out the entire day which we haven’t been doing in the past.”
In addition to the change of leadership, West Indies welcome back perhaps two of the best fast bowlers in the region, Kemar Roach and Jerome Taylor.
The 29-year-old Taylor makes his return nearly five years after limping out of the first Test against Australia in Brisbane. Since then he has battled fitness issues but returned to competitive cricket this year with 25 wickets for Jamaica in the Regional first class championship.
Roach, meanwhile, has not played a Test since last March against Zimbabwe in the Caribbean, and rebounded from shoulder surgery last December to be fit for this series.
Left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn, who played the last of his 17 Tests nearly four years ago, is an also an option for Ramdin with off-spinner Sunil Narine ineligible for selection for the series.
With a strengthened side, Ramdin believes West Indies have the opportunity to make amends for their disastrous outing December.
“It is important we get a strong start. They outplayed us in their conditions and these are our conditions now,” he pointed out.
“When we look back at the two Test matches we had here [in 2012] we outplayed them so we need to emulate that. We need to play basic cricket, smart cricket as well, so our batters can go on and get big scores and our bowlers can bowl in partnership and build pressure and create that opportunity and those chances to get wickets.”
West Indies will be expected to prey on New Zealand’s poor record as travellers. Of their last 15 Tests on the road, they have won just one, in a drawn two-match series against Sri Lanka two years ago.
Ramdin, however, said the Black Caps remained a dangerous side and stressed West Indies would take nothing for granted against them.
“They are a very exciting team, Brendon McCullum and his guys. Once he (McCullum) is batting something is going to happen. You have Kane Williamson, a guy who has stuck it out ably out there batting for long periods of time [and you have] the exciting Ross Taylor,” Ramdin said.
“The bowling line up is a great bowling line up. You have the left-arm seamers and they did wonders down in New Zealand and hopefully we can overcome them in our conditions here.”
The last time the two sides met at Sabina Park two years ago, West Indies came away with a five-wicket victory.
WEST INDIES – Denesh Ramdin (captain), Sulieman Benn, Kraigg Brathwaite, Darren Bravo, Shiv Chanderpaul, Kirk Edwards, Shannon Gabriel, Chris Gayle, Kieran Powell, Kemar Roach, Marlon Samuels, Shane Shillingford, Jerome Taylor, Jason Holder.
NEW ZEALAND – Brendon McCullum, Corey Anderson, Trent Boult, Mark Craig, Peter Fulton, Tom Latham, James Neesham, Luke Ronchi, Hamish Rutherford, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner, BJ Watling and Kane Williamson.