All eyes will soon be on the battle between Australia and South Africa, but a potentially more significant power shift might be occurring in a series contested between teams at the bottom of the Test rankings table.
Australia’s one-sided Test series with New Zealand represented something of a warm-up for both teams. The Aussies face a South Africa team that has designs on toppling the world number ones, whilst the Black Caps face West Indies in a more direct winner-takes-all meeting: the loser will be confirmed as the worst Test team after Bangladesh.
It is fair to say New Zealand are in a state of disarray (in Test terms at least – their prolonged malaise in the longer form of the game has had no impact on their ability to punch above their weight in limited overs cricket.)
The protracted departure of coach John Bracewell has destabilised a team that tastes Test victory on the rarest of occasions – they have only won overseas Tests in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh during Bracewell’s five year tenure.
Outspoken Kiwi legend Martin Crowe described New Zealand’s meek surrender in the second Test at Adelaide as his country’s ‘worst moment in Test cricket’, which suggests the only way is up for incoming coach Andy Moles.
Unfortunately this is not true, despite his new charges’ slide to the base of the Test rankings table. They are going in a different direction to Windies, who have been more competitive than the Black Caps since the teams’ last meeting.
New Zealand won the three match series in early 2006 by a 2-0 scoreline but have since been heavily beaten by South Africa, England and Australia, whilst West Indies’ highlights included a Test win in South Africa, a drawn home series against Sri Lanka and a competitive battle with the Aussies.
This is therefore a realistic chance for West Indies to win their first away series against a major nation since 1994/95.
Such a result would be significant for both teams. West Indies would have a tangible reward to go with the feel good factor generated by the Stanford Super Series, whilst New Zealand would be forced to embark on a rebuilding process that has been needed for some time.
Bracewell’s departure follows a rash of senior player retirements, with Stephen Fleming, Chris Cairns, Nathan Astle, Scott Styris, Shane Bond and Craig McMillan all hanging up their black caps in recent years. Moles and skipper Daniel Vettori face a tough transition period and only need to ask their opponents next month about how it feels to be Test cricket’s whipping boys.
Written by Philip Oliver, a sports writer who blogs about cricket betting.