Saturday, July 28, 2012

New Zealand versus West Indies – by the book

The current test series in the Caribbean involves the two sides at the heart of my cricketing love – New Zealand and the West Indies. One is a patriotic, almost familial, love for the countrymen of my home land, the other an unconditional but passionate affair for the men assembled from a collection of tiny Caribbean islands who instilled in me a love of our great game from an early age.

The 2012 edition is the 14th series between two sides as different as a withering recluse and a gregarious extrovert – it’s not hard to guess who sits where. Numbers and statistics never tell the full story – they often hide the human element that is so pivotal in sporting endeavours. What follows involves both numbers and stories – statistics and situations that provide some insight into 60 years of enthralling history.

Tests – 37
New Zealand wins – 9
West Indies wins – 10
Draws - 18


Four is better than five?
Isn’t it only domestic first class cricket or tour fixtures that are played over four days? Whilst that’s the case in the modern era, it wasn’t always so.

In the first series in New Zealand at the end of the 1951/2 summer, the tests were only over four playing days. Whilst they still took five days to complete - the third day was a scheduled rest day – a fantastic way to split your working week. Like many of the established test nations of the time, the Windies didn’t yet believe the Kiwis were up to a five day contest – they still hadn’t won a test in over 20 years of trying. The West Indies won the first test by five wickets and after compiling 546/6 in the second, they were only denied an innings victory after the fourth day was lost to rain.

New Zealand were not granted their first five day test match against their Calypso foes until their first tour to the Caribbean for the 1971/2 series. By that time they had completed three series under the four day format (1951/2, 1955/6 and 1968/9).

Finally, a test win
March 13, 1956 – After 26 years and 45 matches, New Zealand notched their first test victory, against the West Indies, in front of 9,000 jubilant spectators at Eden Park. The John R Reid led side secured an emphatic debut victory by 190 runs after they had been soundly beaten in each of the first three tests of the four test series.
They did so on the back of dismissing a powerful Windies side for just 77, in 45.1 overs, on the fourth and final day.

A pair of 70s in the ‘50s
Whilst one might reasonably expect New Zealand to have a mortgage on the lowest innings total, both sides clumped to scores in the 70s in the 1955/6 series in New Zealand. The Kiwis kicked off the first test in Dunedin with a dismal 74 in their first innings – the naysayers were already lining up to pen a series whitewash. After three comprehensive test losses the two sides headed to Auckland for the final test, and it was the Windies’ turn to implode. Needing 268 in the final innings of the tour to complete a test whitewash the West Indians were rolled for 77 and New Zealand achieved their maiden first test victory.

The Nurse always delivers
Barbadian Seymour Nurse signalled that the 1968/9 West Indian tour to New Zealand would be his international farewell. A late bloomer, Nurse was a natural stroke maker in the Windies middle order and loved to take the attack to all and sundry. His parting salvo is still the highest West Indies’ series total in battles between the two sides. In just five innings he amassed 558 runs at 111.60 and signed off with a masterful 258 in Christchurch. Very few players leave the game on such a high personal note – the Nurse delivered.

More drawing than an etch-a-sketch
New Zealand’s first tour to the Caribbean in 1971/2 led to a drawn series – all five tests were drawn! The New Zealanders saw the result as a triumph – they were undefeated and developed a large band of followers throughout the collection of tiny West Indian islands. They stood on the precipice of both victory and defeat throughout the series but dropped catches and courageous fight backs halted both. It’s likely New Zealand would have gone down in the fifth test but heavy rain intervened.

While there were bursts of impressive cricket, the series was dominated by dour, over-cautious batting, a pair of weak bowling line-ups and a succession of slow, lifeless pitches. It’s unfortunate the wickets in the current series look like replicas of those encountered 40 years ago.

Howarth bowls himself into the ground
New Zealand’s Hedley Howarth made Daniel Vettori’s test bowling workload look like a walk in the park. During the 1971/2 series, Howarth delivered a callous-inducing 338 overs. Like Vettori, Howarth was a left arm orthodox spinner often used to stem the flow of runs, or simply dry them up completely – unlike New Zealand’s most successful spinner he was never a prodigious turner of the ball, regardless of pitch conditions. During the five tests he snared just 14 wickets at a cost of 50 runs apiece with a strike rate a shade over 24 – overs, not balls!

More remarkable were his efforts in the West Indies second innings during the third test. Howarth ground his way through 74 overs - it would have been more but the match petered out to a draw late on the fifth day.

1, 2, 3, 4… doubles
Glenn Turner, a dedicated professional who put a huge price on his wicket, hit four double hundreds during the 1971/2 tour– two in the test matches and another two in the first-class matches, equalling the record for such an instance on an international tour. None led his side to a victory and they were often compiled with all the speed of John Brown’s jalopy. What would today’s side give for even one of those doubles? Arise, KSW – please?

Turner channels Bradman
But for a duck in his final test innings, Don Bradman would have ended his test career averaging 100 – for a few weeks in 1972 Glenn Turner channelled The Don, in test averages at least. In a purple vein of form Turner struck 672 runs at 96 in the drawn test series in the Caribbean. The style may have lacked the finesse of the great Australian but figures alone compare favourably. Turner’s aggregate remains the highest series total by any player from either country – given a series now seems to constitute no more than two tests it’s doubtful it’ll ever by surpassed. Sometimes quantity is more important than quality…

And a series victory at home
10 years after their first series victory in Pakistan, the New Zealanders finally achieved victory at home late in the 1979/80 series – that it was against a formidable West Indies side made it all the sweeter.

Richard Hadlee, New Zealand’s only truly world-class player, took 11 wickets in the first test at Carisbrook paving the way for the series victory - New Zealand crept to a much deserved, yet narrow, one wicket victory on the final day. The following two matches petered out into draws – such was cricket 30 years ago. With their tale between their legs the Windies escaped to the sunshine of the Caribbean while the local lads basked in their own summer glory.

For a record breaking West Indian side it was their last series defeat in 15 years – the beginning of the Fire in Babylon era. For their part, New Zealand’s first test series victory in Aotearoa would see them embark on a 12 year unbeaten series run at home.

But, it’s not the cricket we remember
Unfortunately, for many New Zealand (and undoubtedly West Indian) fans the extraordinary result of that first home series victory was sullied by a number of unsavoury incidents that put a large black mark against a remarkable West Indian side.

In the first test Michael Holding took exception to having a decision turned down and violently kicked the stumps out of the ground. But what followed in the second test took things to another level. Colin Croft, after being no-balled once more for overstepping, headed back to his mark but stopped at the crease and petulantly flicked the bails off. Shortly afterwards Croft ran in close to the umpire, Fred Goodall, and deliberately lowered his shoulder into him prior to completing his action. The callous and cowardly act against an unsuspecting umpire was a step too far. However, on both occasions when Goodall summoned Lloyd for a chat, the imposing captain remained steadfast in his position in the slips waiting for the umpire to come to him.

After the tea break later in the day Lloyd kept his charges in the sheds for 12 minutes after play was due to start – a perceived umpire bias was noted as the official reason. There were fears that when the Windies side left the ground at the end of the third day they may not return.

In an era when touring management and the home association constituted the disciplinary committee, all the players escaped punishment, no doubt due in part to fears the tour would end early. How would Clive Lloyd, in his role as ICC Match Referee, have dealt with the offenders today?

For a more in-depth look back at the drama of that series, have a read of When the Calypso Kings ruled Babylon.

Ken Rutherford - thrown to the wolves
New Zealand’s 1984/5 tour to the West Indies signalled both the beginning and the end of the career of Ken Rutherford. He may have etched out a lengthy international career, eventually leading his country, but the trauma of that first tour never left him - “I've spent the last 27 years trying to forget that series”.

The fresh-faced 19 year old was thrown to the West Indian wolves, asked to open the innings on debut against Marshall, Garner and Holding – experienced players shuddered at the thought – it’s doubtful Rutherford slept comfortably throughout the tour, such would have been his anxiety levels.  The addition of Walsh and Davis later in the series didn’t give the young man any relief.

In four tests (and seven innings) Rutherford struggled to just 12 runs from 72 balls, including three ducks. It’s debateable that even the strongest of experienced players would recover from such a harsh examination.

27 in four – twice
It would be rare to hear Bruce Taylor and Malcolm Marshall mentioned in the same breath – especially when the comparison isn’t a chalk and cheese one – rare, not impossible. The two have almost identical records for the most wickets in a New Zealand versus West Indies series. Over respective four test series in 1971/2 and 1984/5, Taylor and Marshall hustled 27 wickets respectively. The comparative balls bowled, runs conceded, averages, strikes rates and economy rates of each bowler have less than a three per cent variance – if one didn’t have any context it’d fair to assume both players were evenly matched. Sometimes statistics give a false impression of true cricketing ability.

Shooting bunnies at will
Test bowlers always have their bunnies - Warne loved bowling to Cullinan, Ambrose to Atherton and Chris Martin to Phil Hughes. Richard Hadlee and Courtney Walsh seemed to go rabbit shooting every time they had the ball in hand in a New Zealand versus West Indies battle. Both having played in 10 matches, and 19 innings, Hadlee stormed to 51 scalps, Walsh 43. Hadlee’s debut against the Windies in 1979/80 saw him achieve match figures of 11/102 – the numbers didn’t stop until he did.

A Walsh wind blows through The Basin
On a Basin Reserve wicket that heavily favoured the batsmen, the West Indies’ Courtney Walsh used all his guile to secure the best bowling figures in a match in the second test of the 1994/5 series. After the Windies had stroked their way to 660/5 declared in their first innings Walsh took up the challenge and led his charges to their fourth highest winning margin and New Zealand’s heaviest test defeat by an innings and 322 runs. Walsh took 13 of the 20 Kiwi wickets to fall, at a cost of just 55 runs – the New Zealand batsman’s respite was facing the chin music of Kenny Benjamin and Curtly Ambrose. Walsh’s return was bettered only by Michael Holding's 14 for 149 at The Oval in 1976 and along the way he went past 250 test wickets in his 70th match.

Skippy double on debut
26 December, 1999 saw the inaugural Boxing Day test played in New Zealand – at least one player, and likely every spectator at the ground, will remember the first two days for just one reason – Central Districts stalwart Mathew Sinclair became only the fourth cricketer to score a double hundred on test debut. His 214 delighted a sold-out Basin Reserve crowd and I had a box seat on the bank for both days. 33 tests over 11 seasons, and an average of 32, don’t do justice to the unbridled talent of the Australian-born Sinclair, but an unwillingness to listen and adjust his game to the rigours of the test game have cost him in the end. Skippy isn’t a man who has room for regrets – the bitterness at his treatment has subsided with age and no Kiwi fan will ever forget that first test knock.

Donald? Daffy? No – Chris!
Who would have thought Harry would hold the ignominy of the most ducks in test innings between the two countries? Chris Harris, more known for his one-day heroics, never quite made the grade at test level – he found his level in an all-conquering domestic first class career but was never able to translate it at the highest echelons of our great game. In eight test innings against the Calypso Kings he was dismissed without scoring on four occasions – Joel Garner suffered the same fate but played three more innings. Before the start of the current series, New Zealand’s Chris Martin had batted against the Windies three times – he is yet to trouble the scorers. The chances are high he’ll take the rubber ducky from Harry before the summer is out.

Cairns castles Caribbean Cool
Given the conveyor belt of quicks coming out of the Windies it seemed logical the best innings haul would belong to one of the intimidating fast bowlers that reshaped the international game. But no, it’s a New Zealander all-rounder who holds that honour. The enigmatic Chris Cairns led New Zealand to an emphatic victory in the first test of the 1999/00 series in Hamilton on the back of a career best 7/27 in the second innings. After the two sides had cancelled out any first innings advantage with similar par scores in the mid-300s, Cairns played his full bag of tricks to dismiss the Windies for 97 in their second dig. The New Zealand top-order scored the 70 required for victory for the loss of just one wicket and the first seeds had been sown of another New Zealand series win.

The cream doesn’t always rise
Gary Sobers, Clive Lloyd and Brian Lara – three of the finest batsmen to come out of the Caribbean and all huge contributors to the mystique and appeal of West Indian cricket. But in captaining their country against New Zealand their returns sat closer to the other end of the spectrum. Sobers led his country to just one victory in eight tests, Lloyd didn’t get a win in three attempts (he lost his only series as captain) and Lara lost both his tests in charge in the 1999/00 series.

New Zealand’s Stephen Fleming, while not in the same class as a batsman, achieved a winning record against the West Indies that tops all others. In seven tests between 1999 and 2006 he led his country to five victories – a winning percentage of 71 per cent. The other two tests ended in a draw – Fleming never tasted test defeat against the Windies as captain.

A modern Windies drought
Call me biased but New Zealand have played well above themselves since the conclusion of the 1995/6 series in the Caribbean. In the four series that have followed, the decline of the once mighty Windies is shown in the results – New Zealand have won three series, the most recent one ended in a draw. The Kiwis haven’t lost a single test in the nine outings during that time. Whether they can continue their run in 2012 is still to be seen, but the flow early doors looks like the run may be coming to an end.

A strong Gayle blows through New Zealand
Chris Gayle’s form since his return to the international game, at all levels, has been formidable but he’s taken a strong liking to mediocre New Zealand attacks since his debut ten years ago. In 60 years of battle between the two nations, the King of Caribbean Cool holds the highest average among his contemporaries from both nations. Prior to the current series he was averaging a touch less than 75 in 11 innings, including 6 scores of 50 or more.  To paraphrase the insightful Willie Watson, a perceptive Kiwi seamer in the 1990s, running into Gayle must be “like bowling in the highlights”.

Late mail: after his continued dominance in the current test, Gayle went past Gordon Greenidge as the highest run scorer against the New Zealanders when he reached 63 in the first innings. As I write this he’s yet to be dismissed.


All the statistics in this piece preclude the current series in the Caribbean – I’m sure some of the records may change in the next couple of weeks.

Tell me what you think – I’d love your thoughts. Many of the numbers in this piece simply scratch the surface of this fantastic rivalry – if you have other milestones or numerical oddities, let me know. Post a comment below or tweet me @aotearoaxi.

2 comments:

  1. I wonder who will win this contest, they are at the same level! I can't wait to see them.

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  2. in my opinion I think that New Zealand team has more opportunities to win than the West Indies for many factors on their side

    ReplyDelete