Test cricket is an integral part of our New Zealand summer. And it's been a while since the Black Caps' gutsy win in Hobart; we've had to satisfy our love of cricket by watching a one-sided test series from Australia, supplemented by a plethora of T20 cricket from both sides of the Tasman; described by James Stephenson as cricket for those with short attention spans.
But REAL cricket returns to New Zealand today with the start of the one-off test match against Zimbabwe in Napier. The Zimbabweans are returning from test cricket exile, but have already shown some signs of promise, and test cricket is better for their presence. The skipper Brendan Taylor has spent the summer in New Zealand, and his will be a crucial wicket for the New Zealand bowlers. It will take time for Zimbabwe to develop depth at the top level, but they will be a good opponent for a New Zealand side which has played little more than T20 cricket for six weeks or so.
The New Zealanders have asked for a bouncy, green McLean Park pitch, and it seems as if they have go their wish. The bowling attack will be the same as that which bowled Australia out twice in Hobart, with Daniel Vettori in support, replacing Jesse Ryder. Ross Taylor's first job today is to win the toss so that the Black Caps can have a go at their opponents in bowler-friendly conditions.
We have a few reservations over the decision to play Vettori as a #6 batsman. His best batting has come from the #8 position, and playing him that high in the order leaves a long tail if the top order does not fire. There will be pressure aplenty on the top five of Guptill, McCullum, Williamson, Taylor and Brownlie, especially given their lack of long innings in recent weeks.
New Zealand has never won a test match at Napier, probably due to the benign McLean Park pitch. An all-round team effort will be required if they are to break their duck over the next five days. It just so happens that we have work to do from home today, so we'll be looking forward to the start of play later this morning. It'll be great to see test cricket being played here, even if it is but an entree to the South African series which follows.