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West Indies ready to put Test heat on New Zealand

HAMILTON: The West Indies relished the freedom to be out-and-about in Covid-free New Zealand on the eve of the first Test at Seddon Park here on Wednesday, but said the pressure was on to be fully focused once the match starts.

It has been months since either side played red-ball cricket, leaving the potential for rust with New Zealand’s last Test against India in February. The West Indies have played only three Tests, against England in July.

West Indies skipper Jason Holder said his Test squad for Thursday’s opening match bore little resemblance to the Twenty20 side whipped 2-0 by New Zealand in the past week, and was much improved on the side crushed by 240 runs when they last played the longest format in Hamilton three years ago.

“We’ve had some good success from then till now so I think the point for us is to just continue to build as a side,” Holder said as the West Indies trained on Tuesday about 15 metres from a very green Test pitch. “We’ve got our plans, and it’s just that we have to execute. Where we’ve fallen down in the past is execution.”

The tourists have revelled in finally being able to escape the bubble life that has confined many of them for most of the past five months as they played in England and then Dubai, which hosted the Indian Premier League, in empty stadiums because of the pandemic.

“It’s like a kid running into a playground for the first time,” Holder said as he described being able to get out in New Zealand and play cricket before large crowds. “It’s refreshing. I got a chance to play some golf, I got a chance to sit in a restaurant which I haven’t done for four or five months, so I’m a bit chilled and relaxed.”

New Zealand have a chance to play their way into the final of the World Test Championship if they sweep the two Tests against the West Indies and the following two against Pakistan.

But captain Kane Williamson he was not looking that far ahead as he wrestled with getting back into Test mode after a diet in recent months of Twenty20 cricket.

“You try and go back to past experiences and narrow things down with your game. Obviously, the red-ball game is quite different to the white-ball format and no doubt it has its challenges,” he said. “It’s being able to remove that to a certain extent and focus on what it is that gives you the best chance to play competitive, and your best, Test cricket rather than getting ahead of yourself and thinking about where you might end up on ladders.”

Neither side was prepared to name their starting 11 before seeing the state of the pitch on Thursday morning, but Williamson confirmed wicket-keeper BJ Watling would not play because of a hamstring strain.

He has been replaced by Will Young who will open the batting in his long-awaited Test debut with incumbent opener Tom Blundell moving down the order to take over the keeping duties.

The unlucky Young was named to make his debut against Bangladesh last year before the Test was called off following the Christchurch mosque attacks.

Three months later he missed out on the World Cup squad after suffering a shoulder injury during training camp.

“It’s an exciting opportunity for him at the top of the order and I know he’s just looking forward to getting involved after some near opportunities that didn’t eventuate,” Williamson said.

Young, 28, averages 43.76 in first-class matches with 10 centuries, the most recent of which came for New Zealand ‘A’ last week against West Indies.

“Often you come into teams and you are trying to get a feel for the group but he’s got that feel, he’s an experienced player, has played a lot of first-class cricket and to a very high standard,” Williamson added.

A decision on the rest of the lineup will be made early on Thursday, with all-rounders Daryl Mitchell and Mitchell Santner and fast bowlers Trent Boult, Kyle Jamieson, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner vying for five spots.

“It’s a great problem to have,” Williamson said.

Both teams confirmed on the eve of the Test they would continue to take the knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, as they did before the start of the Twenty20 matches in the past week.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2020

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