KINGSTON: West Indies will be bent on revenge while New Zealand are concerned about the crooked arm of a key opposition bowler heading into the first match of the three-Test series starting on Sunday (today) at Sabina Park in Jamaica. While much of the local focus on the fixture has centred on local hero Chris Gayle becoming just the ninth Caribbean cricketer to play 100 Tests, the bludgeoning opening batsman’s impending landmark has taken a backseat in the minds of the visitors, with coach Mike Hesson raising questions as to the match referee’s ability to effectively police the action of Shane Shillingford.
Suspended from the international game for the second time in his career following two Tests in India last November, the tall off-spinner is set for a return on a pitch that may lack the venom of old but should still have enough bounce to allow both the Dominican and the even more gangling left-armer Sulieman Benn of Barbados to pose significant threats. “It’s quite hard to see how they actually police that,” Hesson said on Friday in reference to the ability of officials to detect whether or not Shillingford bowls the “doosra,” a delivery that has been a key weapon in earning him 65 wickets in 14 Tests but which he is not now allowed to use following the latest remedial work on his action.
West Indies, who were comprehensively beaten 2-0 in New Zealand six months earlier, are likely to opt for a balanced attack that could see late call-up Jason Holder sharing the new ball with either Kemar Roach or Jerome Taylor, both of whom are returning from injury.
New Zealand’s build-up to only their sixth Test series in the Caribbean has involved two warm-up matches, a rarity in recent times given the congested international calendar. Both fixtures against local teams in the western Jamaican venue of Trelawny were low-scoring affairs, although there was enough evidence to suggest that it may be worthwhile investing in uncapped off-spinner Mark Craig even if the seam attack, led by Trent Boult and Tim Southee, will again be key to their pursuit of just a second Test match victory in the West Indies since their first tour here in 1972.
New home captain Denesh Ramdin is expecting a tough first series at the helm but at least does not have to contend with the considerable distraction of a match-fixing controversy in which his New Zealand counterpart, Brendon McCullum, is embroiled. That follows his testimony to the International Cricket Council anti-corruption unit in which he claimed to have been approached by a former player twice in 2008.
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