The curse of the Kiwis

The Kiwi bird is a real odd ball.

It is classified as a member of the Apterygidae family and a member of the ratite group, a set of large flightless birds.  There are only five ratite species existing today, as the moas of New Zealand and the elephant bird of Madagascar are extinct. The surviving species range from the nine foot tall African ostrich to the six foot tall Australian Emu to the five foot high Cassowary, native to New Guinea, nearby islands and Australia, to the four foot tall Rheas of the Americas. These distinctly large birds are quite heavy and capable of running at high rates of speed.

Of course, there is also the Kiwi. The chicken size bird, native to New Zealand. The shy nocturnal bird is not blessed with the height, weight and speed of the other ratites, and the female bears the distinction of laying eggs that are almost 20% of its body mass. The five species of Kiwi range in size from 18 inches tall, five pounds to ten inches high and tipping the scales at three pounds. The Kiwi is forced to rely on its other senses since it possesses a very small eye relative to its body mass, resulting in the smallest visual field of all bird life.

The Kiwi has become a symbol of New Zealanders who are often referred to as Kiwis. When it comes to Test cricket, the Kiwis have always been a difficult opponent for the West Indians.

On Sunday, the West Indies capitulated to an innings and 67 run defeat in the First Test of the current two Test series. It was their seventh loss in seventeen Test matches in New Zealand, dating back to 1995, and the third innings defeat in four consecutive losses at the Basin Reserve in Wellington, thus guaranteeing to preserve the Kiwis’ enviable record of not having lost a home series to the West Indies in twenty-two years.

With the exception of the first two series in 1951-52 and 1955-56, 1-0 and 3-1 victories, respectively, the West Indies have never really enjoyed outstanding success in the land of the Kiwi. This is the eleventh tour of New Zealand by the West Indies, and their 1-0 series win in 1995 represents their only other success there.

Rare and unusual occurrences have become the norm in these encounters. In the 1955-56 series, Everton Weekes hit three consecutive centuries for the second time in his career, and in the First Test of 1968-69, the New Zealander all-rounder, Bruce Taylor, batting eighth, hammered the West Indian attack for the then fourth fastest Test century off 83 balls, in 86 minutes, still the eighth fastest of all time, an innings that included fourteen boundaries and five sixes. Despite Taylor’s heroics, the visitors pulled off the then second highest successful run chase in Test history, scoring 348 for the loss of five wickets on the final afternoon of the scheduled four-day Test.

Of course, there is the now infamous tour of 1979-80, the last series the West Indies would lose for fifteen years, and only the second series win for New Zealand in 50 years of Test cricket. The tourists lost a low scoring contest by one wicket at Dunedin, a match which set a record of twelve lbw decisions, seven in favour of New Zealand’s Richard Hadlee. This was the match in which Michael Holding sent the stumps flying with a spectacular soccer style kick. (Home umpires were still the norm in those days.) A strong Viv Richards’ side in 1986-87 failed to secure a 1-0 lead, losing the Third Test by five wickets.

In 1994-95, the West Indies won a series in New Zealand for the first time in four decades, following an innings victory at Wellington, after they had declared at 660 for five, the largest Test total conceded by the Kiwis.   In the 1999-2000 visit, the West Indies capitulated from 276 without loss on the first day of the First Test to lose by nine wickets, and followed it up with an innings defeat in the Second Test. The 2005-06 and the 2013-14 sides suffered similar humiliations in three Test series. Somehow, the visitors of 2008-09 escaped with draws in their two contests.

The just concluded Test was not without the unusual. Colin de Grandhomme blasted the ninth fastest Test century, the second fastest by a Kiwi and the fastest ever against the West Indies. His maiden Test century came off of 71 balls, breaking the 115 year old record of 76 balls by Gilbert Jessop, whilst crushing the spirit of the West Indians on the second afternoon, as he swung the contest firmly in the Kiwis favour. Tom Blundell, the wicketkeeper batting eighth on Test debut seized the opportunity to score a Test century.

Here in the West Indies the Kiwis have fought tooth and nail. The first visitors in 1972, managed to draw all their matches on the tour, returning home undefeated. The hosts have won three of the five following series, with the Kiwis taking the other two, including the last three match encounter in 2014, 2-1.

Yesterday, we were greeted with the news that the visitors’ will be without their skipper Jason Holder for the Second Test beginning on Saturday, at Hamilton, since he is suspended following the slow over rate in the First Test, the second such incident in twelve months.

What next? The Kiwis now hold a 14-13 lead in Tests following the West Indian debacle at the Basin Reserve, the first time they have ever held the advantage.

Sir Garfield Sobers once described our struggles with the New Zealanders as the curse of the Kiwis. New Zealand is the only side Clive Lloyd’s team never managed to conquer. Can the West Indies recover in Hamilton, level the series and break the curse?

Expect the unusual to happen.


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