Warmup woes leave Black Caps side in a spin
Whether to play Neil Wagner's pace or Mark Craig's spin is the first-test selection poser for New Zealand coach Mike Hesson after a near-farcical final warmup match in Jamaica.
The Black Caps transfer to Kingston today after a week in popular tourist spot Montego Bay, where they tiptoed across a sub-standard pitch to beat a Jamaica Selection XI by 123 runs.
As they head to Sabina Park for Monday's first test, Hesson was dubious as to the benefits of the five days of warmup cricket at Trelawny Stadium, where batsmen found the pitch a minefield and the spin bowlers got inflated value for their deliveries. Day three, when the tourists skittled the hosts for 90 in their second innings, was transferred to a next-door strip after the original was deemed too dangerous.
"They [conditions] were pretty extreme," Hesson said.
"Kingston doesn't have a lot of grass on it but it holds together and certainly has a lot more pace. This block had only been laid a month ago so it lasted one day then it just blew apart. It was of little benefit from a batting point of view other than getting a bit of time in the middle."
Despite legspinner Ish Sodhi taking 5-35 in the first innings, and offspinner Craig sealing the match with 4-8 including three wickets in one over, Hesson said it was no certainty they'd play two specialist spinners at Kingston.
Two years ago, the last time a test was played at Sabina Park, New Zealand selected four frontline pacemen who dismissed the West Indies for 209 in their first innings, before losing the match by five wickets.
"We haven't seen the wicket and we have to decide whether we play a third seamer [Wagner] or a second spinner [Craig]. Whoever we leave out will be unlucky because they've both performed really well," Hesson said.
He was heartened by the way the ball swung for pace pair Trent Boult and Tim Southee, while Wagner offers durability and skill with the old ball.
Batting was causing a few more furrowed brows. Hesson said he had decided on the test opening pair, but kept his cards close and said he'd discuss it further with captain Brendon McCullum.
"We gave all of our openers three chances at the top and we said that at the start of the tour. We've got a pretty fair idea but I've got to have a chat with our captain about that," Hesson said.
Stand-in skipper Peter Fulton and Tom Latham seem the favoured option, having opened together in the second innings. No one has smashed down the selection door and none of the contenders topped 20 in the match, with incumbent Hamish Rutherford perhaps most in need of a big score.
Kane Williamson, in the first innings, and Ross Taylor, with a brisk unbeaten 55 off 62 balls in the second, at least spent time in the middle.
The only player who won't be considered for the first test is backup wicketkeeper/batsman Luke Ronchi who was bed-ridden by a lung infection. He will remain on tour and be given time to recover.
The Dominion Post