Blackwood (80*), Joseph (59*) keep WI in the fight, but innings defeat looms

SUMMARY: West Indies 138 (Campbell 26, Southee 4-35) and 196-6 (Blackwood 80*, Joseph 59*, Wagner 2-62) (f/o) trail New Zealand 519-7 dec (Williamson 251, Latham 86, Jamieson 51*, Gabriel 3-89, Roach 3-114) by 185 runs



It happened suddenly. Blue skies giving way to grey clouds. New Zealand loved that. They could sense an opportunity. A chance to break this Test wide open. And they did, by picking up 15 wickets in the day.

People say that in Hamilton, the pitch doesn’t matter so much as the overheads, because even though it might be frighteningly green, it will play fairly true. But the moment there is something in the air – a little moisture, a little humidity – batsmen become endangered creatures. The overseas variety especially.

West Indies had shown a capacity to resist on day two. But they were being hunted now. Tim Southee was relentless. His ability to set up batsmen was on show in the first over itself, when he fed John Campbell a steady diet of inswingers, and then ambushed him with a wobble seam delivery.

The rest of his wickets – he took 4 for 35 – were just as impressive if a bit repetitive. Outswingers to right-handers, who had no choice but to play them and were out caught-behind.

Southee is the leader of this attack. He set the tone. And when he was done, even the new kid knew what to do.

Kyle Jamieson is a truly exciting prospect. Especially in Test cricket. At 6’8″, his back-of-a-length deliveries carry through like bouncers, often producing oohs and aahs. The experts call that pretty bowling. The kind that looks nice but is mostly harmless. Darren Bravo might disagree with that considering he got hit on the glove by a vicious lifter.

It began playing on his mind. He became preoccupied with all that extra bounce and never saw the full one coming. Jamieson, even in his short career so far, has always been able to pitch the ball up to devastating effect.

That alone is remarkable because so many tall bowlers – Morne Morkel, Ishant Sharma – struggled for long to incorporate it into their game. And here is a rookie who not only does it at will, he gets swing too. Neither Bravo nor his off stump stood a chance.

Tim Southee of New Zealand is congratulated by team mates after dismissing John Campbell of the West Indies during day three of the First Test match in the series between New Zealand and the West Indies at Seddon Park on December 05, 2020 in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

New Zealand took nine first-innings wickets for 89 runs in 38 overs on Saturday. They were able to do that because of two crucial aspects that define their bowling. The ability to hit the same spot on the pitch over and over, and the variety to always pose a threat.

Seventy-eight percent of their wicket-taking deliveries were between the 4m and 6m mark. That’s the kind of length that makes batsmen unsure whether to go forward or not, while also ensuring the ball takes the edge and doesn’t just beat it.

West Indies had to deal with more of that with no rest in between as they were asked to follow-on. Only this time they came out with a new plan.

They had seen it was no use trying to outlast the swing. The conditions were too lush for that. So they shifted focus to hitting out. If a delivery was even half in their area, they went for the boundary option.

But that brought with it its own problems. Like three wickets in six balls.

It all began with Bravo, who soon after pasting Southee over the covers twice, got stuck in that mode and Neil Wagner exploited his looseness.

That brought Shamarh Brooks in but he couldn’t keep his flick down. Even the ultra-sensible Brathwaite ended up caught behind going for an upper cut. The scoreboard read 27 for 4. And West Indies were in the muck. They couldn’t defend. They couldn’t attack. They could only collapse.

Jermaine Blackwood found a way to rise above the rubble though. He made an unbeaten 80 off 98 balls and nearly all of them were eye-catching.

A man with a million shots, he even went after New Zealand’s enforcer and took him down. Wagner has turned entire Tests with his short-pitched bowling. But here, Blackwood flick-pulled him for six and established a dominance that was both thrilling and unexpected.

At 89 for 6, with Shane Dowrich unable to bat due to a finger injury, New Zealand would have been dreaming about a three-day victory.

Ironically though, that undercut their discipline and had such a negative effect on their performance that West Indies’ No. 8 was able to whack ’em around and score his maiden half-century. Alzarri Joseph walked off with an unbeaten 59 against his name and West Indies lived to fight another day. (ESPNCricinfo)

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