Buoyant Kiwis Bolstered By Return Of McCullum
- West Indies v New Zealand, 4th ODI – St Kitts
After their win in the 3rd ODI a buoyant New Zealand team received a further boot with the news of the return of star batsman Brendon McCullum who missed the first three games through injury.
For the first few games of the tour, West Indies were clobbering New Zealand as they haven’t clobbered any Test-playing nation in a long time. However, an all-too-familiar collapse by the hosts at St Kitts has left the ODI series in the balance and opened the door for New Zealand, who have Brendon McCullum back in the side. West Indies’ initial success was partly due to the inexperience in the New Zealand side and part to Chris Gayle, who was bullying the bowlers almost single-handed. There is probably no harder job in limited overs cricket than to plan for Gayle, and New Zealand’s young captain Kane Williamson couldn’t have been faulted for his team’s successive failures. It looked like West Indies would wrap up the series in the third ODI, but then the Gayle failure arrived.
Jacob Oram knows New Zealand have by no means got a hold on Chris Gayle, but he and his team-mates have realised just how much they can control a game once they get him out early. For the first time on their tour, on Wednesday in St Kitts, New Zealand dismissed Gayle before he could run away with the game, and found out they could exert enough pressure on the rest to defend comfortably on a renowned flat track with short boundaries. New Zealand’s 249 was by a distance the lowest total to have been successfully defended at Warner Park. West Indies themselves once failed to defend 248 against Bangladesh here. New Zealand haven’t been shy of throwing in a word about West Indies’ reliance on Gayle without being disrespectful. “We always talked about just exposing the rest of their top order, let alone their middle order, to bring pressure, which they hadn’t been under for four games on the tour,” Oram said. “On top of that we fielded as well as I’ve ever seen. Yes we dropped a couple of catches, but those three run-outs, you’ll go a long way to see better.” Oram knows better than to be over-confident, though. “No way do we feel like we’re on top of Chris Gayle,” he said. “He’s still probably averaging 80 or something like that for the tour so far, so we know he’s going to be a massive thorn in our sides, and we’ve got to work just as hard to dismiss him and then work on the others. “We knew all along that he was going to be the real danger man, and we talked about just trying to get him out. I think yesterday Tim Southee, into the wind, bowled a really good spell.” Southee got Gayle to edge one to slip after the batsman had been leaden-footed against swing bowling from Trent Boult.
Oram also accepted that the lack of preparation hurt them, but was quick to dismiss it, lest it be seen as an excuse. “It would have been nice to have an extra 10 days or a week somewhere,” he said, “so that that teething period and that period of finding our feet had actually occurred during a camp and during some warm-up games as opposed to our first hit-out being a Twenty20 international against the West Indies in Miami. However, that wasn’t the case, and that’s not an excuse for playing poorly. We should have been ready.”
New Zealand, though, have some better news around the corner on what has been a wretched tour with regards to fitness and injuries. BJ Watling was the latest man to go down, with a quad strain. However, Brendon McCullum has reached St Kitts, and is expected to slot right in as a wicketkeeper and No. 3 batsman, a dual role he performed in the home summer too. That will push Daniel Flynn further down the order. In effect, Watling’s injury might have earned Flynn another go after the specialist batsman has averaged 16.28 in 19 ODIs with a best of 35. Doug Bracewell, who has been sidelined with a slight back strain, has been back to training, and could be available for selection in the coming games. While these are all little signs pointing north for New Zealand, Oram knows the enormity of the task facing them. “We’re well aware that it’s two games left and we’re still 2-1 down,” he said, “so while yesterday was great, we’re trying to not get too far off the ground because if we don’t win the fourth game then the fifth one doesn’t really matter.”