Thursday, June 12, 2014

A debut to remember

The New Zealand cricket team registered just its second-ever test victory in the West Indies this morning. 

And it was a test debut to remember for Otago off-spinner Mark Craig. Not only did Craig have the best-ever match analysis by a New Zealand bowler on debut (eight for 188), but he is, to the best of our knowledge, the first player in the 2123-match history of test cricket to hit a six from the very first ball he faced. Unsurprisingly, he was adjudicated Man of the Match.

Cricinfo reports on a remarkable fourth day at Sabina Park:

Tim Southee and offspinner Mark Craig demolished West Indies for the second time in successive days at Sabina Park to record New Zealand's second Test win in the Caribbean. Craig took four wickets in the final innings to finish with 8 for 188 in the Test, the best match haul by a New Zealand debutant.
West Indies were left to reflect on another abject batting performance. Their second-innings total of 216 was inflated by an 82-run stand for the last wicket between Sulieman Benn and Shane Shillingford, who swung merrily to score the second fastest Test fifty in terms of balls recorded. It only delayed the inevitable defeat.
After West Indies had been set 403 to win, Chris Gayle began the chase with two boundaries in the first over,from Trent Boult, becoming the eighth West Indian to pass 7000 Test runs. He then watched Tom Latham move lithely at short midwicket, diving forward to catch a low flick from Kieran Powell, giving Southee a wicket in his first over. In his second, Southee pitched a delivery on a good length around off and angled the ball away from Gayle. It was a delivery he had beaten Gayle with umpteen times in the first innings before finally hitting the edge. He did not have to wait at all this time. Gayle prodded from his crease with poor footwork and edged a low catch to the wicketkeeper BJ Watling, leaving West Indies on 11 for 2.
West Indies' slump took a break for tea and then resumed unabated. Brendon McCullum brought on Craig in the 12th over and the offspinner struck with his second ball, dismissing Kirk Edwards for the second time in the Test, caught at leg gully after the batsman pushed forward too early. New Zealand's fielding and catching had made West Indies' efforts in the field look lethargic all through the Test, and two outstanding catches gave Craig two more wickets in the space of three balls. The wicketkeeper BJ Watling adjusted to the high bounce of an offbreak and caught the outside edge from Darren Bravo near his shoulder, and Latham dived quickly to his left at short leg to hold an inside edge from Marlon Samuels, who bagged his second two-ball duck of the Test. West Indies were 54 for 5.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Denesh Ramdin began to form a partnership but there was a sense of futility to their efforts, given the magnitude of the task ahead. Unlike in the first innings, when Chanderpaul was solid all through his unbeaten 84, he played shots and edged a couple of his early deliveries. And when he padded up to the legspinner Ish Sodhi, and the New Zealanders went up in prolonged appeal, umpire Rod Tucker gave him lbw. It was a marginal decision, because Chanderpaul had taken a long stride forward and the ball was turning big, but replays predicted it would have clipped the top of leg stump. A broken innings now lay shattered.
It was left to the new West Indian captain, Ramdin, to avert a four-day defeat, but when he missed a slog sweep and was bowled by Sodhi not long before stumps, New Zealand took the 30-minute extension to knock over the tail. What seemed a certain four-day finish, however, began to seem unlikely as Shillingford and Benn frustrated the bowlers with free-spirited, no-pressure hitting. One over remained in the day, and McCullum gave it to Kane Williamson. He needed four balls to have Benn caught behind; Watling capping a phenomenal match behind the stumps. 

The resistance from Shillingford and Benn was far too little, and far too late. The West Indies' capitulation in the second innings was all too familiar for a long-time supporter of New Zealand cricket, but this time, the boot was on the right foot.

After Tim Southee had knocked over the West Indies openers in his first two overs, it was the spinners who did the job for New Zealand. Craig ripped through the middle order, and Ish Sodhi picked up the key wickets of Chanderpaul and Ramdin.

Surely now, any calls for Daniel Vettori to return to the New Zealand side can end. Yes; the conditions were spinner-friendly. But both Craig and Sodhi were getting enough turn and bounce to suggest that they will develop into very good test match bowlers. We would far rather New Zealand Cricket invest in their development than look backwards.

And for years we have called on New Zealand batsmen to put a high price on their wickets. Peter Fulton apart, that is what the top order did. The cricket on the first day was not pretty, but it built a foundation for the bowlers to flourish today.

The New Zealand side has now won four of its last six test matches. And had it not been for afternoon rain in Dunedin back in December, that would have been five out of six. It is too soon to declare the dawning of a new era for the team, but there are some very promising signs, and the emergence this summer of players like Corey Anderson, Jimmy Neesham, Ish Sodhi, Tom Latham and Mark Craig is giving the selectors the best possible problem; depth.

Here's hoping that the side can carry on its good form when the second test starts at Port of Spain on Tuesday morning (NZ time). In the meantime, the players deserve a celebratory beer, and they can enjoy the opening of the Football World CuP tomorrow morning instead of mopping up the West Indies tail. This was a comprehensive victory by a team on the rise.



Kane Bunce said...

I wish I had been able to watch more than tiny little bits of it, but the main thing is they won again. I have never seen an NZ side win 4 from 6 Tests, so it is an exciting time for me.

pdm said...

Comprehensive and generally a very good team effort. Having said that the Windies did not show any commitment with the bat, Chanderpaul and Ramsden excepted.

Obviously Rutherford must come back to open for the next test but how could you pick Anderson ahead of Neesham? Perhaps the way t422o make room is to move Watling to open but, that is a tough ask and he is probably too valuable at 7 these days.

The balance in the attack is good and with Boult and Southee we have new ball bowlers the equal of everyone but South Africa. Craig was a revelation and his selection has been justified already - he turns the ball and his flight is very good even if he did bowl a few too many full tosses. It will be interesting to see him on a flat wicket.

I was against the Captaincy change to McCullum and very sceptical about Hessam. He is rapidly proving me wrong although the decision to go with Fulton was an odd one.

I await the second test with keen interest.