Chris Gayle 100 not out
Jermaine Lannaman, Sunday Gleaner Writer
The opening Test between West Indies and New Zealand will bowl off today at Sabina Park with Jamaican opener, Chris Gayle, the centre of attraction.
Gayle, who made his Test debut for the regional side in 2000, is set to play his 100th Test, a feat achieved by only nine other West Indian batsmen.
The 34-year-old big-hitting batsman will enter the encounter also needing another 67 runs to get to 7,000 Test runs, another feat that is achieved by few West Indians.
He is currently third on the list of leading West Indian opening batsmen scorers behind the legendary duo of Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes.
Greenidge played 108 matches and scored 7,558 runs at an average of 44.72, while Haynes completed 116 matches, scored 7487 runs at 42.29.
Gayle, who currently averages 42.01, is also eighth on the list of all-time West Indies scorers.
Brian Lara with 11,912 runs from 130 matches at an average 53.17, tops the list ahead of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who has scored 11,219 from 153 matches at 51.93.
Sir Vivian Richards with 8,540 from 121 matches at 50.23 rounds off the top three.
"It's like a dream to be playing my 100th match at home, and again I am really looking forward to the occasion," said Gayle.
"I have been coming off an injury, but I would say I am in fairly good condition to compete, and plan to play my part in the match.
"Hopefully, it will be a good one, and I go on and make a big score; however, whatever the outcome I intend to soak up every moment of the occasion."
set to pilot
Gayle, who missed the team's last Test series, which ironically was against New Zealand late last year, is set to pilot the side's batting once again. This is in addition to the reliable Chanderpaul, Marlon Samuels, and the recently named 2013 West Indies Cricketer of The Year, Darren Bravo.
Gayle's opening partner, in the meanwhile, is unknown ahead of the match, with good money being on Leeward Islands opener, Kieron Powell.
Though he didn't enjoy a prosperous 2013, and currently not in his best form, Powell is likely to get the nod ahead of the in-form Kraigg Brathwaite.
Brathwaite, who was West Indies 'A's top batsman last year on their tour of India, scored a century and a half-century during two pre-series warm-up games against a Barbados Select XI.
The other batsman in the squad, Kirk Edwards, is likely to take the sixth and final specialist batsman spot.
West Indies' bowling is expected to see Jerome Taylor or Kemar Roach, both of whom are returning from injuries, spearheading the new ball attack, and off-spinner Shane Shillingford or left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn, leading the slow-bowling equivalent.
Ironically, both Shillingford and Benn are also making a return to Tests after being out due to an ICC-recommended bowling action review, and poor form, respectively.
"The team is balanced with several players making a return, I am confident that we can do well in not only the first Test, but also the series," said new captain, wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin, who will be leading the team for the first time in a Test series.
Meanwhile, New Zealand, which defeated the West Indies 2-0 last December, and surprised India 1-0 in New Zealand in January to move into sixth position on the ICC Test rankings, two places above the West Indies, will be looking to continue their good form.
leading the charge
Top among those who will be looking to lead this charge will be experienced batsmen, Brendan McCallum, and former captain, Ross Taylor, as well as the ICC 2013 Emerging Player of The Year nominee, left-arm fast bowler, Trent Boult.
Also capable of turning the match New Zealand's way are batsman Kane Williamson, wicketkeeper BJ Watling and pacer, Tim Southee.
Big-hitting stroke-maker, Corey Anderson, a find for New Zealand last year, has been ruled out of the game due to a neck injury.
"We are right where we want to be mentally and physically," McCallum said.
"Obviously, the conditions here in the Caribbean suit West Indies, but we have been playing creditable cricket in the last couple of months, and hope to build on that.
"It should be an emotional occasion with Gayle playing his 100th Test, but we intend to remain focus and on the task at hand."
West Indies (from): Denesh Ramdin (capt), Chris Gayle, Kieran Powell, Kirk Edwards, Darren Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Jerome Taylor, Sulieman Benn, Kemar Roach, Shane Shillingford, Shannon Gabriel, Kraigg Brathwaite, Marlon Samuels, Jason Holder.
New Zealand (from): Brendon McCullum (capt), Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Tom Latham, Corey Anderson, BJ Watling, Luke Ronchi, Jimmy Neesham, Mark Craig, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult and Ish Sodhi.