DUNEDIN, New Zealand -- West Indies captain Darren Sammy and head coach Ottis Gibson said they were looking forward to the three-Test series against New Zealand over the next month.
The first Test opens on Tuesday at the University Oval in the second largest city in the South Island of New Zealand and the principal city of the Otago Region.
Sammy said the quick turnaround from India, where the Windies spent the last month, and getting used to the temperate conditions in New Zealand will pose a challenge.
“It’s the life of a professional sportsman,” said Sammy. “One minute, you are in the hot and crazy fan atmosphere of India, and the next day, you are in New Zealand, Dunedin, where the breeze can blow you off your feet. We won’t make any excuses. We will have to come and hit the ground running.
“...The last time we played New Zealand in a Test series, we won on home soil, so now is the return leg and we expect them to really come hard at us and probably take revenge from what happened in the Caribbean.”
He added: “But we have our own ideas and we have come here to play good, competitive cricket. People might say India did not go well for us, but this is a new challenge, a new chance to focus and finish the year on a high.
“We have a lot of respect for our opponents and we know New Zealand can be a very competitive side, especially at home. We recall that England were the No.1 side in the World when they visited last year and they drew 1-1, and they found the cricket difficult, so we expect the same.”
On the challenge facing the side, Gibson said: “The toughest thing will be getting accustomed to the weather. It’s not something that we encounter every day in our travels around the Caribbean, and India as hot and humid, so it will be a mindset thing. The cricket will be the same, but the mindset to overcome the weather will be our biggest challenge.
“Our preparation has not been ideal. It’s been a bit disjointed, but it’s up to us to accept that it’s still cricket and we have to prepare our minds to do what we have to do. If we can do this, once the Test starts, I think we will give ourselves the best chance to do well. The easy thing would be to blame the preparation, but we have been playing cricket and the conditions are really the only major hurdle.”
West Indies have won just one series win in New Zealand in the last 50 years, when Courtney Walsh’s side led them to a 1-0 victory in a two-Test series 18 years ago.
In three subsequent trips however, the Windies were beaten 2-0 in 1999 and 2006, but drew 0-0 in the previous series five years ago.
On the importance of the trip, Sammy said: “Being confident as a team will be key. . .I don’t think we did too well in India and [that] was a lesson for us, to show us where we are compared to the top teams in the World.
“Now, we are playing a team, where we are evenly-matched... We have to adapt quickly to conditions. They will know conditions very well and it’s the first time in New Zealand for three-quarters of our squad.”
He said: “This is a different environment. In India, it’s cricket-crazy and it was all about Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell from the game and the media was all crazy. But here, it’s a bit more peaceful and guys can relax, not so many cameras in their face, and we can focus on the game of cricket.
“There are a number of guys that want to bounce back, myself included. I did not have a good time in India and I want to come out and reassert myself as a Test captain and player, and many of the players want to do the same following the humiliation in India.”
In the corresponding Test at this venue, West Indies fast bowler Jerome Taylor struck a maiden Test hundred of 106, as the Caribbean side were bowled out for 340, replying to New Zealand’s first innings total of 365.
Veteran left-hander Shivnarine Chanderpaul, along with Denesh Ramdin, one of two survivors from that match, batted almost five hours for 76 and Chris Gayle, captain at the time and who was supposed to play his 100th Test here, made 74, as the Black Caps’ champion left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori grabbed six wickets.
The match ended in a draw due to rain with the New Zealanders 44 for two in their second innings.
On the relative inexperience of the players in New Zealand conditions, Gibson said: “It’s a learning opportunity for them, but there are enough people around us from whom we can get some good information though.
“It will be up to the guys to go out and assess what’s happening around them and make good decisions. If they can do this, plus apply the basics very well, we give ourselves a good opportunity to be successful in the series.”
Gibson arrived on Saturday from Perth, where he accompanied Shane Shillingford and Marlon Samuels to the independent testing, after they were reported for suspected illegal bowling actions during the second Test against India last month.
“The sort of initial feedback from the people conducting the tests was positive,” said Gibson. “The ICC set a number of guidelines for the tests and the guys fully adhered to all that they were supposed to do, so we are hoping to get a report in 14 days and that it will be a positive result and the guys can put this episode behind them and focus more on the game.
“When we travelled over on the plane, we spoke about it. It’s tough for them, but I thought they coped with it quite well and they will definitely come into the reckoning for this Test. Marlon bats for us more so than bowls, so it shouldn’t be an issue for him, but with Shane I’ll speak to him again and see how he is. He’ll have a training session on Monday and we’ll judge from there which of the spinners will play.”
In the absence of Kemar Roach and Ravi Rampaul, Gibson said Tino Best will shoulder an enormous responsibility as leader of the attack.
“It’s a good opportunity for Tino to show his leadership, he’s been around international since 2002, and this is a chance to show his true self,” said Gibson.
“He’s done it for Barbados and he’s got the most wickets for them in first-class cricket at home. He's a quality bowler and will have to step up on this trip, so the young bowlers can feed off him. One thing we know about Tino is that he will be full of energy – and that plus some consistency and good decisions can make him a good leader of the attack for us.”
West Indies will be looking to improve their ratings points on the ICC Test Rankings Table. They enter the series in sixth position on 95 points, while New Zealand start off in eighth place with 75 ratings points.
The series offers an opportunity for West Indies to reduce the gap with fifth-ranked Australia – but they will have to win the series either 2-0 or 3-0.
A 2-0 margin would give West Indies two ratings points to end the year on 97, reducing the gap with the Aussies to four ratings points, and a 3-0 series victory would give the Caribbean side four ratings points, reducing the gap with the Baggy Greens to just two.