It’s been over nine months since we last saw the New Zealand team in whites. In March earlier this year, Kane Williamson‘s side lifted the trophy in Christchurch after beating the then No. 1 Indians 2-0 in the Test series. Now, in December, as the cricketing world adapts to the new normal, Test cricket is back in New Zealand after a round of T20Is last week, against West Indies.
The format switch shouldn’t be too big a deal for either team playing tomorrow – only three of the players from the New Zealand T20 group are part of the Test squad, while only two West Indies players feature in both the T20I and Test sides.
Just six Tests have been played – across two series, involving three teams – in the last eight months, and West Indies have been part of three of those. That’s relatively good prep in these circumstances, although several New Zealand players featured in four rounds of the domestic Plunket Shield recently and both New Zealand and West Indies have played two warm-up games on the sidelines of the T20I series. West Indies were exceptional with the bat in both games – there were three half-centuries, one century, and a double-century against the second-string New Zealand side.
In July, West Indies went 1-0 up for the first time in England since 2000. In the last 21 years – since December 1999 – they haven’t won a Test match in New Zealand, losing eight and drawing four. The last time they toured New Zealand, it was Trent Boult and Neil Wagner wreaking havoc, and it might not be too different this time around, at least in terms of pace calling the shots. West Indies have their enforcers too – Shannon Gabriel, who bowled a match-winning spell in Southampton, and Kemar Roach, who toiled endlessly throughout the England series, as the main men. They also have all the preparation they could have asked for – more time in the middle than their opponents, in-form batsmen, and a well-rounded bowling attack.
From the point of view of the World Test Championship, the series is a big one for New Zealand, who are currently fourth in terms of percentage points won. A series win could see them displace England at No. 3, while West Indies, who are currently third from bottom, could move up if the results go their way.
Last five completed matches, most recent first
New Zealand: WWLLL
West Indies: LLWWL
In the spotlight
Will Young, who has been the back-up batsman for a while in the New Zealand side, is all set for his Test debut. The 28-year-old was primed to be part of the Christchurch Test against Bangladesh last year in place of the injured Williamson, but the match was cancelled after the terror attack. He made 64 and 133 against the West Indies A side in the two warm-up matches in Queenstown before scoring a century in the last Plunket Shield round for Central Districts. It’s been quite a long wait for him and he would be looking to make the most of this opportunity.
Internet searches for Jermaine Blackwood would have probably spiked after his match-winning century in the first Test against England. He returned to the West Indies side last year on the weight of his first-class performances, after falling out of favour in 2017, and might not have featured in the England series at all had Shimron Hetmyer and Darren Bravo not opted out. Before the pandemic curtailed the West Indies domestic season, he was the tournament’s top scorer with 768 runs in 15 innings for Jamaica. After playing for Jamaica Tallawahs in the CPL, he switched to red-ball mode in no time, slamming a half-century in the second tour game in Queenstown.
Kraigg Brathwaite has been unstoppable. Prior to the 246 and 47 he made in the two-warm up matches, he was good in the two Tests against England in June as well, hitting two fifties in four innings. That follows a good run of form in the past year, where he also made 468 runs in eight innings for Barbados in the domestic first-class season.
Williamson has confirmed that Young would be replacing the injured BJ Watling in the New Zealand line-up. He will open with Tom Latham, while Tom Blundell will take the wicketkeeping gloves and move down the order. Daryl Mitchell, who was named replacement for Colin de Grandhomme could also get a game here. To work around the pace-bowling quartet, New Zealand could bring in left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner – named cover for the injured Ajaz Patel – as head coach Gary Stead earlier said it would be “unusual not to play a spinner in Hamilton”.
New Zealand (possible): 1 Tom Latham, 2 Will Young, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 Tom Blundell (wk), 7 Mitchell Santner, 8 Kyle Jamieson, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Neil Wagner, 11 Trent Boult
The return of Bravo and Hetmyer, who had opted out of the England tour, would add some solidity in the West Indies’ batting order. The absence of Shai Hope, who was omitted after a poor run in the format, could mean Blackwood could still be part of the side after displaying good form prior to this series.
West Indies (possible): 1 John Campbell, 2 Kraigg Brathwaite, 3 Darren Bravo, 4 Shamarh Brooks, 5 Roston Chase, 6 Jermaine Blackwood/ Shimron Hetmyer, 7 Shane Dowrich (wk), 8 Jason Holder (capt), 9 Alzarri Joseph, 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Shannon Gabriel
Pitch and Conditions
The forecast is for a cloudy morning with occasional spells of rain in Hamilton tomorrow.
Stats and trivia
New Zealand have a 4-0 win-loss record in their last six Tests in Hamilton: they have beaten Sri Lanka, Pakistan, West Indies and Bangladesh, and drawn against South Africa and England. Their last defeat here was in 2012, against South Africa.
Williamson needs 13 runs to become the second batsman, after Ross Taylor, to reach 1000 Test runs at Seddon Park. Williamson has an excellent record here: 987 runs at an average of 75.92. His last six Test innings here have been: 176, 43, 54, 200*, 4, 104*.
Tim Southee needs four wickets to become only the fourth New Zealander to take 50 Test wickets at a venue – he currently has 46 at 22.47 in Hamilton. He will join an elite club that includes Richard Hadlee (50-plus wickets in Christchurch and Wellington), Chris Martin and Daniel Vettori.
Darren Bravo is one of only three West Indies batsmen to score a Test double-century in New Zealand, but his form in this format has nosedived since that 218 in Dunedin seven years ago, a match that splits his career almost perfectly in half. In 28 Tests since that game, he averages 29.98; in 26 Tests till that Dunedin game, he averaged 46.67.
“I think it’s a format that we haven’t done well for in a long time and we’re trying to get ourselves back into the higher ends of the table where Test cricket is concerned and because of that initially we want to do that in the Test Championship but at the same time we want to be winners in Test cricket itself.”
West Indies head coach Phil Simmons
“He’s been around the environment for some time without getting his first opportunity so I think that’s also a real positive. He’s an experienced player, has played a lot of first-class cricket and to a very high standard and he deserves that opportunity.”
New Zealand captain Williamson on debutant Young
Recent Match Report – Essex vs Sussex South Group 2021
Skipper slams 75 from 44 to help make short work of small chase
Sussex 130 for 3 (Wright 75) beat Essex 128 for 8 (Garton 3-31) by seven wickets
The Blast’s all-time leading run-scorer missed the opening two rounds after splitting the webbing in his hand while practising fielding on the eve of the competition. But he made up for lost time by bringing up his fifty in 33 deliveries as Sussex chased down Essex’s below-par 128 for eight with 36 balls to spare.
Wright looked at home right from the start, with boundaries from his second and third deliveries – two of eight fours.
Opening partner Phil Salt earned a life when he bludgeoned a full toss to mid-on, only to earn a reprieve for the umpire to judge the ball to have been above waist-height, much to Simon Harmer’s chagrin. Salt was run out for 13, after putting on 54 with Wright before Travis Head added 60 together with the skipper.
Wright continued to his 26th Blast half-century, going past 8000 T20 career runs, with a pair of straight sixes and another over cow corner. He departed with six still needed but Delray Rawlins clattered the winning runs over long-off soon after.
Wright’s day had started perfectly as he won the toss and stuck the hosts in – although Will Buttleman struck successive sixes in the fourth over. On a used hybrid pitch, scoring proved difficult for Essex with only Buttleman, Michael Pepper and Jimmy Neesham’s strike rates topping 100, for those who reached double figures.
The strain on scoring was exemplified by the last over of the Powerplay, which saw just one run, as Paul Walter struggled to lay a bat on Chris Jordan – the run rate throughout the innings hovering just below seven an over.
To add to the Eagles’ woes, wickets were a regular occurrence. Tom Westley and Buttleman fell in the Powerplay – the former picking out deep midwicket off George Garton and the latter slapping a Tymal Mills slower ball to cover.
Walter was stumped, Ryan ten Doeschate clubbed old pal Ravi Bopara to long off, Pepper – having scored 38 off 25 balls – drilled to extra cover, Harmer miscued to midwicket, Jack Plom skied to mid-off and Neesham was comprehensively bowled.
Garton ended up with 3 for 31, with Mills, Jordan and Bopara all going at under a run-a-ball.
Recent Match Report – Hampshire vs Middlesex South Group 2021
Imposing Hampshire target overhauled with two balls to spare in outground thriller
Middlesex 217 for 7 (Cracknell 77, Simpson 62) beat Hampshire 215 for 6 (Short 48, McManus 47, Weatherley 41) by three wickets with two balls to spare
Middlesex pulled off their second highest T20 chase – by three wickets with two balls to spare – in a memorable match at Radlett which saw the next generation take charge of a county going through a difficult transition, and leave another ailing T20 side, Hampshire, fearing that they don’t seem to be in much of a transition at all.
Radlett is about as far away from the ECB’s vision of T20 cricket as it is possible to be. The dream is maximum revenue from large stadia, a football-style atmosphere and a sense of theatre that delights a TV audience. Start an overly loud, alcohol-fuelled chant at Radlett and you may be blackballed from the golf club or become the subject of gossip in the Ladies Circle.
Hampshire’s first 200-plus total for three years was eminently chaseable in perfect batting conditions. But patently not by Middlesex, most of their supporters would have suggested. At 30 for 3, with Morgan trudging off, having reached at a very wide one to hole out at deep backward point, a philosophical kind of pessimism had taken hold.
Radlett is an idyllic county ground: a good batting surface, a ground lined by trees and hedges, and a convivial crowd adopting a Country Show attitude to any minor privations in the marquees and the portable toilets. They were allowed not far short of 1,000 spectators which is roughly the same as some of the smaller county grounds, which have stands and things. All to do with pinch points apparently.
They were on the verge of a colossal Powerplay with 68 garnered from the first five overs and Vince and D’Arcy Short in a blissful world where they could do much as they pleased. With Middlesex lacking five pace bowlers because of injury or (in the case of Tom Helm) recovery from Covid-19, a colossal score looked on the cards.
Then came Cullen. Three off the first over; Vince’s head-high hook falling to deep backward square in his next. In his final over, he twice troubled Hampshire’s ex-Middlesex man, James Fuller, twice for pace, the first of them gloved to third man.
Cullen, a former England U19, has played for Middlesex since the U10s, and both player and club are beginning to reap the reward of years of endeavour. Pacey, with a strong action, he can reputedly swing the ball in four-day cricket, but here, he adapted intelligently and hit the pitch. The assessment of Middlesex’s director of cricket, Angus Fraser, that he “bowls like a grown man” could not have been more apparent.
Green’s night did not begin well. He averages below seven runs an over in a career spanning more than 70 matches, making him beloved of T20 aficionados, and he was also on the back of a five-for against Kent, with four wickets taken in the final over. He was Middlesex’s most expensive bowler, leaking 55 from four overs as his method of pushing it fast and wide across the right-hander brought no dividends.
Middlesex missed chances in the field, and a succession of shots escaped clawing fingers. The most damaging, in more than one sense, was Sowter’s drop of Dawson, running in from deep backward square, his right ankle sprained in the process. But not damaged enough for him to play a part in Middlesex’s uplifting victory.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
Recent Match Report – Kings vs Zalmi 24th Match 2020/21-2021
Peshawar’s bowlers restricted Karachi Kings to their lowest ever PSL total before Zazai made short work of it
Peshawar Zalmi 109 for 4 (Hazratullah Zazai 63, Imad Wasim 2-2) beat Karachi Kings 108 for 9 (Abbas Afridi 27*, Abrar 3-14, Wahab 3-34, Gul 2-13) by six wickets
Only Islamabad United have gunned down a target quicker, and even their ten-over chase against Quetta Gladiators earlier this week looked like it would be eclipsed comfortably. In the end, three late wickets slowed things down slightly, but it still meant Zalmi had coasted to the target with nine overs to spare. Karachi Kings’ poor run since the resumption of the league continues, but the damage this defeat will inflict might reflect just as heavily in the minds as it will in the run-rate column.
Zazai’s devastating debut
Zazai is set to become a T20 franchise darling over the years, but even so, the contempt with which he lay waste to experienced, wily Kings bowlers in his first PSL game was a sight to behold. Once Kamran Akmal was dismissed in the second over, Zazai decided he wouldn’t let it scupper plans to wrap up the game in a hurry, and Amir was the unfortunate recipient at the end of his first offensive.
The first six was a shade streaky, a top edge over third man, but there was nothing chancy about the three boundaries that followed in an over that leaked 21. It was followed up by an over from the other Aamer Yamin – which proved even costlier, two sixes and two fours from the Afghan seeing him hurtle along to a blitzkrieg half-century. The timing and power were both astonishing, a fearsome 97-metre swipe over square leg perhaps the shot of the night. The 50 would come in just 17 balls – a joint record – and by then, the match had long been over as a contest.
Abrar haunts his old franchise
When legspinner Abrar was first introduced to the PSL by Karachi Kings in 2017, he looked a proper mystery spin bowler, one who might go on to become a valuable asset for his franchise. Opportunities were hard to come by and he was let go after a couple of seasons, but making his debut for Peshawar Zalmi, he showed his old side what they missed. Coming in when Imad Wasim’s side were already hobbling after a difficult first ten overs, he kept the Kings on a leash in his first over, allowing just two runs.
The 22-year old burst to life in the one that followed, though. He broke the budding partnership with a carrom ball Najibullah Zadran ended up holing out to long-off, before one that drifted back in put paid to Yamin’s brief stint at the crease. With Wahab deciding to bowl him out consecutively, he would sign off by deceiving Waqas Maqsood with a googly, two balls after the batsman had smashed him for six. He would end his day with figures of 4-0-14-3, and they didn’t flatter him in the slightest.
Where they stand
Karachi Kings were top when the league resumed, but slipped to fifth, outside the qualification spots. Peshawar Zalmi moved up to 10 points alongside Lahore Qalandars, and into second place.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000
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