Black Caps in control in first Windies test
New Zealand all-rounder Jimmy Neesham believes pushing for a first cricket test victory against West Indies on a flat Sabina Park might be a tougher task than his record-setting century.
Neesham etched his name into the record books and gave the tourists a seemingly unbeatable position at Kingston, Jamaica.
He became the first New Zealander and eighth test player to score centuries in his first two tests, as his swaggering 107 propelled the Black Caps to 508-7 declared.
At stumps on day two, the hosts were 19-0 in reply, with opener Kieran Powell getting a vital let-off when Peter Fulton dropped a comfortable chance at second slip, off an aghast Tim Southee in the fourth over. He and new ball partner Trent Boult got some swing to the left-handers, but couldn't break through before the close.
Home town hero Chris Gayle will resume tomorrow looking to make hay in his 100th test on a sluggish pitch offering few threats, but some encouragement to spinners as it deteriorates.
"Very pleasing, obviously, although in my first test we had a draw [against India in Wellington] and this is looking quite flat so I think the major milestone will be getting that first test win. Individual stuff is nice but the reason you play the game is to win so that's pending at the moment,'' Neesham said.
"It's quite a flat wicket, there's a little bit of turn and bounce when the bowlers put it in the right areas so if we can get a couple of early wickets it will be interesting to put them under pressure.''
New spin duo Ish Sodhi and debutant Mark Craig can expect plenty of overs, as home tweakers Shane Shillingford and Sulieman Benn took six wickets between them from a combined 98.3 overs.
"When we started on the first day we all thought we'd get more from the pitch but unfortunately that didn't happen. The pitch is a flat one but their guys really batted well and didn't take too many risks. They handled it well,'' Shillingford said.
"It's a good opportunity for the big man [Gayle] to get a hundred in his 100th test. As a batting unit we are very much capable of doing the same thing; they batted for two days and we can bat for two days too.''
Day two was all about 23-year-old Neesham, with able backup from reliable gloveman BJ Watling (89), as they lifted New Zealand from a shaky 279-5.
The pair frustrated the home bowlers and put on 201, the second-highest for the sixth wicket against West Indies, behind Glenn Turner and Ken Wadsworth's 220 at the same venue in 1972.
Four months after his 137 not out on debut against India in Wellington, Neesham was finally nicked out by a quicker ball from Benn after becoming the first player to do the century double in separate series.
The others to go back-to-back in their first two tests were Australia's Bill Ponsford, Doug Walters and Greg Blewett, India's Mohammad Azharuddin, Sourav Ganguly and Rohit Sharma (against West Indies last year), and the West Indies' Alvin Kallicharran.
Neesham reached his century off 159 balls with a cover drive for two off paceman Jerome Taylor, to a standing ovation from his teammates and a congratulatory handshake from rival skipper Denesh Ramdin.
He hit 11 fours and two sixes in the knock, as Watling picked up the pace towards a declaration after they struggled to crack three runs per over on the sluggish surface.
Neesham appeared unlikely to feature in the first test with Corey Anderson the incumbent all-rounder. Anderson's neck injury suffered two days out from the match opened the door for Neesham, who now must have slammed it shut on Anderson as the side's top all-rounder.
He would have been unlucky to miss out anyway, having made a flying start to test cricket at the Basin Reserve when he partnered Brendon McCullum in the captain's triple century.
Neesham exploded into action today when he advanced on Shillingford and clouted him over his head for two sixes in the same over.
Standing tall and looking composed, the left-hander used the sweep shot to good effect and wasn't shy about leaving his crease, looking like a 50-test veteran. Notably, Neesham and fellow centurion Kane Williamson used their feet the best against the spinners.
Earlier, New Zealand wobbled as they looked to get past 305, the average first innings total at Sabina Park's 10 most recent tests.
The Black Caps lost Williamson (113), Ross Taylor (55) and McCullum (7) in the space of 20 runs as the West Indies spinners began to threaten.
Williamson added eight to his overnight score as a lapse in concentration cut short his sixth test century when many more runs beckoned. Having advanced on Benn and crunched him over long off for four, two balls later he let go an arm ball and watched it cannon into his off stump.
Taylor was also guilty of a poor shot when seemingly poised for a big score, chipping Shillingford to mid-wicket.
McCullum hasn't always found it comfortable against left-arm spin and it was same again as Benn snared him with a cracker, seven balls after Taylor's departure.
Benn got one to turn and bounce sharply, McCullum edged and it looped off Ramdin for Gayle to snare a simple catch at slip.
Stumps day two at Sabina Park
First innings (240-2 overnight)
T Latham c and b Shillingford 83
P Fulton c Ramdin b Taylor 1
K Williamson b Benn 113
R Taylor c Edwards b Shillingford 55
B McCullum c Gayle b Benn 7
J Neesham c Ramdin b Benn 107
B Watling c Powell b Shillingford 89
T Southee not out 21
Extras (19b, 6lb, 2nb, 5w) 32
Total (for 7 wickets, 174.3 overs) 508
Fall: 9 (Fulton), 174 (Latham), 259 (Williamson), 277 (Taylor), 279 (McCullum), 480 (Neesham), 508 (Watling).
Bowling: J Taylor 26-11-37-1 (2nb), K Roach 29-6-85-0 (1w), Darren Bravo 1-0-2-0, S Benn 52-14-142-3, M Samuels 15-1-55-0, S Shillingford 46.3-7-145-3, C Gayle 5-0-17-0.
C Gayle not out 8
K Powell not out 11
Total (for 0 wickets, 9 overs) 19
Bowling: T Boult 5-2-11-0, T Southee 3-1-8-0, M Craig 1-1-0-0.