Black Caps eye lofty heights after fine win
Having completed what captain Brendon McCullum labelled the perfect test, the Black Caps are on the verge of reaching heights they haven't scaled for 15 years.
After they dispatched West Indies by 186 runs at Kingston for their second win in the Caribbean, and first away victory in 18 months, New Zealand are at short odds to complete a series win starting at Port-of-Spain on Tuesday.
Victory there, or in Barbados the following week, would mark New Zealand's first overseas win in a series of three or more tests since the giddy heights of England in 1999.
Their only other away series triumph since against a top-eight side was their breakthrough 1-0 victory in two tests in the Caribbean in 2002.
"It didn't feel easy, while the scoreline suggests it was. Their new ball pair bowled exceptionally well and their spinners asked a lot of questions," McCullum said.
"For us to play well away from home in spinning conditions and succeed is a good sign for us and one of the things I'm most pleased about. We rode out those tough times and good spells to post a sizeable total [508-7]."
It's now four wins from New Zealand's last six tests, after they advanced to sixth in the world following a golden home summer against West Indies and India.
Sabina Park was tailor-made for the home spinners but there were many standouts for the tourists, including a few rookies.
Man of the match Mark Craig (8-188) topped spin coach Paul Wiseman's 7-143 against Sri Lanka in 1998 as the country's best debut match haul.
Tom Latham nailed down an opener's spot with dual half-centuries, Jimmy Neesham's century made it tough for Corey Anderson to return, BJ Watling was excellent with bat and gloves and Tim Southee (6-51) led the attack superbly on a docile surface for the pacemen. The catching was top drawer, too.
"It was nigh on the perfect test for us," McCullum said.
Also pinching himself was Craig, the 27-year-old on debut who was man of the match as Chris Gayle's 100 party fell flat. Craig helped Southee rip through the West Indies twice with back-to-back four-wicket hauls, relishing the turn and bounce he never sees in New Zealand.
"If you told me this was going to happen before I came over, I'd tell you to go away. It was a dream start," said Craig, adding McCullum and coach Mike Hesson gave him confidence to be himself and not try too much.
Craig may have pushed ahead of Ish Sodhi to No 1 in the New Zealand spin charts, and moved closer to a New Zealand Cricket contract next month. Sodhi began loosely but improved in the second innings, snaring the crucial wicket of Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
McCullum relished the rare feeling of two spinners bowling New Zealand to victory as the flaky West Indies folded for 216, despite a whirlwind 25-ball half century by No 11 Shane Shillingford. The hosts' batting was again largely woeful and they looked incapable of batting time.
"Pidge [Craig] was brilliant; he went about his work and was never fazed at any stage. Obviously conditions were helpful but you've still got to apply pressure over a period of time to get the rewards. To settle into the group as quick as he has, is a sign of a strong environment and Mark's character."
New Zealand are reluctant to change a winning team but opener Peter Fulton's spot will be under scrutiny. Depending on the pitch, Neil Wagner could be considered for Sodhi.
The Dominion Post