Black Caps finally break test hoodoo in Hamilton
MARK GEENTY IN HAMILTON
Bubbly drenched Brendon McCullum's black cap and the Seddon Park turf. But the New Zealand captain wants to keep the cork in the good stuff till India arrive next month.
New Zealand celebrated their first series win against a top-eight side since 2006 in fine style last night, after they polished off an eight-wicket win over a disappointing West Indies soon after lunch on day four.
It's small steps from eighth in the world, and knocking over a team ranked sixth was a handy start, even if they remain behind seventh-placed Sri Lanka.
Especially after McCullum admitted he blundered at the toss and chose to bowl on a pitch that started turning as early as day two, for West Indies spin whiz Sunil Narine. "In hindsight we should have batted first, we misread the wicket," McCullum said.
The captain wouldn't say they'd turned the corner as a test unit, though. West Indies' brittle showing with the bat, and underpowered pace attack should promote caution, too.
He felt throughout their 10-test drought they played excellent cricket at home but couldn't get over the line, then surged to big wins in Wellington and Hamilton.
The difference is the contribution from the "core four"; Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson, Tim Southee and Trent Boult, which McCullum said made captaincy easy.
Whilst Shivnarine Chanderpaul was the only world-class player in the West Indies side, New Zealand can now claim three: Taylor, Southee and Boult, with Williamson waiting in the queue if he delivers some much-needed big hundreds.
As their previous test win in Sri Lanka showed, in November 2012, when the core four hit their straps, New Zealand are tough to beat.
Taylor reigned supreme as man of the match for his 131 on a turning pitch with Narine zeroing in, giving him 495 runs for the series for twice out.
He and Mark Burgess are the only New Zealand batsmen with centuries in three successive tests.
Taylor was two not out, five short of John R Reid's New Zealand record of 871 runs in a calendar year from 1965, when Hamish Rutherford crashed the winning boundary at 1.45pm yesterday.
"We have some guys who are hungry to perform on the world stage and match themselves up against the best players rather than just being the best in New Zealand," McCullum said.
"It's early stages for the team and some of those guys, Ross excepted - if he was to retire now he'd go down as one of our all-time greats - and we should enjoy watching [him].
"The others, give them time, but they have the makings."
Williamson looked the goods too in these past two tests, and his breezy 56 guided the chase for 122 home with comfort.
Then there was the bowlers. Boult turned the tide with his devastating new ball spell on Saturday and ended with 20 series wickets at 15.40, backed by his mate Southee who became the 12th New Zealander to claim 100 test wickets after snaring 18 at 18.11.
The speed of the win surprised McCullum, but when Neil Wagner removed Chanderpaul via a brilliant Williamson catch, he felt the tourists could fold quickly.
A run of 10 ODIs against West Indies and India follows before February tests against the world No 2-ranked side in Auckland and Wellington. Frustratingly, it's not a three-test series but will still provide an acid test.
"We are ranking No 8 for a reason. We've come out in this series, in our own conditions, granted, and performed well against a side ranked two places higher than us. That's a very good effort. India is ranked higher than that again and we expect them to come and deliver a performance worthy of their ranking."
And, McCullum hopes, neither test will be played on a surface as dry and spin-friendly as this.
"That's probably why this win is really satisfying as well. I don't think we'd turn up in Kolkata and get a green one so I'd hope when India turn up we don't give them a spinning one."
- Fairfax Media
Should the NZ selectors pick Jesse Ryder if he's available?