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West Indies vs New Zealand 1st Test Preview

Written by Rick John Henry for @HollywoodbetsFollow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!

West Indies vs New Zealand | Sunday 08 June – Thursday 12 June | Kingston, Jamaica | 17:00

The Black Caps have emerged as a formidable threat in the lower echelons of the Test cricket world, a fact that the Indian touring party of February can attest to. The plucky tourists now chase their third Test series win a row, the hosts looking to avenge the 2-0 defeat they suffered at the hands of the Black Caps late last year. Although life in international cricket has been kind to the Kiwis of late, their tour of the Caribbean will be a different prospect. Firstly, they will looking to replicate their excellent form at home, the Black Caps notoriously weak on the road. Secondly, conditions will far from suit their style of play and adjusting to pitches that now play low and slow will be paramount to success. With the hosts seemingly moving from one administrative blunder to the next, the stakes are high in a form of the game generally neglected by both parties.

To Win
West Indies 14/10
Draw 21/10
New Zealand 2/1

West Indies
The last visit from the Black Caps to the Caribbean ended well for the hosts. The West Indies dispatched New Zealand in consummate fashion, taking the ODI series 4-1 and whitewashing the visitors in both the T20 and Test series. Although the Windies struggled on their return tour they will be feeling positive about their ability on their home turf, primarily made up of patches that grip and turn. Unlike the bouncy and fast Caribbean of old, the islands now provide a stern test for batsmen shaky against the spinners. The West Indies would’ve felt comfortable knowing they had two experienced turners to back up the mystery of Sunil Narine, however it now seems that the IPL’s second highest wicket-taker will miss the Test series. Electing to feature in the IPL final saw him fail to join the West Indian training camp in timeous fashion, leading to his axing. The burden of flight and guile will now fall on Sulieman Benn and Shane Shillingford, the latter recently cleared for an illegal action for the second time.

Dwayne Bravo hopes to feature in the Test side for the first time since 2010 and now that Darren Sammy has largely fallen out of favour for the longest format, Bravo is the only capable all-rounder. His brother, Darren Bravo, is still to fully recover from the personal issues that saw him withdraw from the New Zealand tour last December, but is likely to feature here. Fast bowler Kemar Roach is in a desperate race against time to make a comeback from injury. To compound problems in selection, the likes of Gayle, Sammy, Narine and Dwayne Bravo are suffering a severe lack of domestic preparation. They have played none of the Regional Four Day tournament while Samuels, Russell and Ramdin have only featured in one fixture, Pollard a mere two. Although the West Indies will rely heavily on their spinners, a lack of discipline in the longer format could lead to their downfall.

New Zealand
The Black Caps haven’t lost a Test series since May 2013 on their tour of England. Since then, they have drawn with Bangladesh away and beaten the West Indies and India at home. They’ve managed to find stability in selection and have an attractive mix of youth and experience, building a side able to handle to varied nuances of the Test game. Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum make up a dangerous middle-order, capable of long stays at the crease and big centuries. Corey Anderson, fresh from his first stint in the IPL, is an exciting choice down the order and adds a valuable seam option with the ball. The Black Caps look likely to persist with Peter Fulton at the top of the order as opening partner to the attacking Hamish Rutherford despite a poor run of form at Test level, though Tom Latham offers value as a back-up batsman. Luke Ronchi has been announced to deputise for BJ Watling with the gloves, while off-spinner Mark Craig is likely to make his Test debut due to the self-exclusion of Jeetan Patel, who has preferred to focus on his county season with Warwickshire and family commitments.

Leg-spinner Ish Sodhi is the other turner on tour and both will likely feature on the dry Caribbean strips. Daniel Vettori is no longer injured but has made himself unavailable as he still feels his bowling is not ready for the demands of Test cricket. In other team news, Jesse Ryder and Doug Bracewell are still sidelined as the New Zealand selectors are not satisfied that they have their off-field issues under control. The Black Caps have a solid and capable team but may struggle to make inroads without a top quality spinner. Craig impressed in the first warm-up fixture with three wickets against Jamaica Select XI, as did Neil Wagner, who has come on in leaps and bounds in recent times. His stamina and aggression with the ball could spark a collapse among a West Indies order prone to spinelessness.

Sabina Park is steeped in history and will host the important first Test, both sides looking to gain an advantage in the three-match series. It has come a long way since the pitch debacle of 1998 and has since played host to some memorable Test matches, including a 130-run win over South Africa. New Zealand have played three Tests at the ground but only one in the modern era, in 2012, which they lost by five wickets.

VERDICT: West Indies 14/10
Although the West Indies will undoubtedly miss Sunil Narine, his absence may come as a blessing. He proved New Zealand were vulnerable to spin in his last outing but, in general, his Test figures leave a lot to be desired. Benn and Shillingford are more conventional Test spinners and will make life tough for the emerging New Zealanders. Back the Windies to draw first blood.

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