New Zealand and the West Indies meet for their first Test encounter on Tuesday, with both sides looking to improve upon their positions in the ICC Test Rankings.
Venue: University Oval, Dunedin
Commences: Tue, Dec. 3, 2013
Start time: 9:30 p.m. GMT (10:30 a.m. local)
Live on: Sky Sport NZ
Weather: The Weather Channel is predicting mild and partly cloudy conditions for the bulk of the match, with rain unlikely to cause interruptions until the final day on Saturday.
Both of these sides come into this clash on the back of disappointing recent results away from home in the Test arena.
New Zealand's trip to Bangladesh saw the Kiwis grind their way to consecutive stalemates with the babies of Test cricket, highlighting the team's lack of match winners with both the bat and ball.
The West Indies, meanwhile, arrive in New Zealand after suffering an annihilation at the hands of India. Rushed into the subcontinent to aid Sachin Tendulkar's farewell party, the West Indians found themselves blown away by the rampant home side; two successive humiliations in Kolkata and Mumbai doing little to suggest that this alarmingly poor generation of cricket is nearing its end in the Caribbean.
Consequently, this Test series represents an opportunity for both sides to return to winning ways.
Although the visitors come into this showdown as the higher ranked Test side, the home team should enter this battle as favourites, given the comfort of home surrounds combined with the tourists' incredibly short turnaround following the debacle in India.
With just one warm-up match completed before this Test by the West Indies—who fielded a vastly under-strength side—New Zealand should feel confident of seizing control of the series here in Dunedin.
However, New Zealand will be without Kane Williamson for this first Test, who broke his hand in Bangladesh after putting together impressive scores of 114, 74 and 62 in his three innings in the Test series.
Aaron Redmond, who hasn't played a Test in five years, will replace the injured middle-order batsman after scoring a solid 67 in the warm-up match in Lincoln last week. The right-handed 34-year-old also has a century and a fifty in his last four first class innings.
The visitors have selection concerns too and may be without off-spinner Shane Shillingford. Following his capture of 11 wickets in two innings in India, the 30-year-old was reported for a suspect action, being flown to Perth in Australia for testing.
With such little preparation time, having landed in Dunedin on Sunday morning, it's unclear whether with West Indies will select their primary spinner.
New Zealand: Brendon McCullum (c), Trent Boult, Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Kane Williamson, Corey Anderson, Doug Bracewell, Aaron Redmond, Ish Sodhi, Ross Taylor, BJ Watling (wk)
West Indies: Darren Sammy (c), Tino Best, Darren Bravo, Sheldon Cottrell, Kirk Edwards, Veerasammy Permaul, Marlon Samuels, Chadwick Walton (wk), Denesh Ramdin, Kraigg Brathwaite, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Narsingh Deonarine, Shannon Gabriel, Kieran Powell, Shane Shillingford
New Zealand: Ross Taylor will be the key man for New Zealand in this matchup. His team's most polished performer, Taylor has the ability to steer the home side to the large first innings total that will be required to put pressure on the West Indies often-fragile batting lineup.
With Williamson set to miss the match, the 29-year-old will be forced to shoulder much of the run-scoring burden in New Zealand's middle-order. If the smooth right-hander is able to repel the threat posed by Tino Best and either Shannon Gabriel or Sheldon Cottrell to compile a large score in his first effort of the series, the home side will be well on their way to victory.
West Indies: If the West Indies are to be victorious in Dunedin, they simply must take bunches of wickets to relieve the pressure on their batsmen. Tino Best must be the man to shoulder that responsibility.
Set to be partnered by the inexperienced Gabriel or Cottrell—keeping in mind Shillingford's possible absence—Best will be required to use all of his hostility to rip through the New Zealand lineup. At his best, the bustling right-armer is a genuine handful for Test batsmen, with his skiddy deliveries often forcing hurried strokes from even the most composed men at the crease.
On a Dunedin wicket, which should provide some assistance for the seamers early on, Best simply must claim a significant haul of wickets if the visitors are any chance.
In five Tests at the University Ground, New Zealand are yet to lose, claiming two victories and three draws at this relatively new Test venue.
Traditionally, teams have struggled with the bat in the first innings on rather green wickets, before the pitch flattens out on the third and fourth days to provide a better batting surface.
That doesn't spell good news for the West Indies, who arrive on the back of their cricket being played on the dustier wickets found in India.
That should set up a significant advantage for the home side's attack, who should be able to tear through the visitors' batting lineup to set a comfortable victory in the first match of this series.