Captains Kane Williamson and Jason Holder both wanted to win the toss and bowl Thursday on a luminous green pitch at Seddon Park on the first day of the first cricket test between New Zealand and the West Indies. (More Cricket News)
Holder called correctly, eagerly sent in New Zealand and Williamson finished the day 97 not out — approaching his 21st test century — with Ross Taylor 31 not out and the home team 243-2 .
It may have been small consolation to Holder that both astute and experienced captains thoroughly misread the pitch.
He would have been less pleased that his bowlers mostly misused it and found themselves with their backs to the wall at stumps.
The pitch was fully carpeted with grass, almost blending into the outfield, and was so soft that even at the end of a first session extended to 2 hours, 50 minutes — after the start of play was delayed by rain — the ball looked almost new. It was still possible to read the vivid gold lettering on its red surface.
It would at have been easy at first glance to assume the ball would fly about the batsman’s ears and seam prodigiously. Instead, it offered slow seam and only occasional deliveries that reared from a length. Effort balls did fly but not menacingly.
After the early loss of Will Young for 5 on test debut, Williamson and Tom Latham dug in and added 154 for New Zealand’s second wicket to subdue any of the danger the pitch seemed likely to present.
"I felt like I was hitting the ball reasonably well," Latham said. "If your can trust your positions on a pitch like this and get a bit of luck, then hopefully things go your way and I was just glad to contribute today."
Latham had a major piece of luck when he feathered a top edge catch to wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich off Holder’s bowling when he was 45 in the 32nd over. The bowler and the West Indies cordon, apart from Darren Bravo, didn’t bother to appeal.
Latham said the pitch provided some challenges but no real threat.
"I think nowadays on our wickets they tend to be a bit greener," Latham said.
"But there was probably a bit more grass on this Hamilton wicket than we’ve traditionally seen in the past.
"It probably had a bit more pace than we’re used to seeing as well. It offered a little bit but not as much as we thought.”
Latham was eventually bowled by Kemar Roach for 86 when New Zealand was 168-2.
Williamson was typically patient and technically adept, though the ball occasionally beat his outside edge. He mostly played the ball late and under his eyes, using soft hands to mute any unexpected bounce.
The West Indies bowlers were never dominant but occasionally competitive. Full and straight seemed the best formula early on but the tourists too often fell short, feeding Latham and Williamson’s strengths square of the wicket.
Shannon Gabriel, who captured Young’s wicket in the fourth over, finished with 1-62, Roach with 1-53 and Holder put in a long shift, bowling 19 overs in warm conditions and finishing with 0-25.
Scoring wasn’t always easy but Latham and Williamson’s innate patience was rewarded. Latham took 126 balls to reach his 19th half century in tests, then became more fluent and moved quickly ahead of Williamson. He seemed comfortable before he was bowled by Roach, who was helped by an inside edge.
Williamson was becalmed for 24 deliveries on 49 during one of the best passages of play for the West Indies, who strung together a series of maiden overs. He went on to a half century from 134 balls and seemed poised at stumps to add to his record number of test centuries for New Zealand.
New Zealand will play two-test series against the West Indies, then Pakistan at home this summer. If they can sweep both they have a chance of attaining the No. 1 world ranking for the first time and they will strengthen their chances of reaching the final of the World Test Championship next year.
The West Indies are chasing their first win in New Zealand since 1995. The day ended with further concern for the tourists when Bravo was assisted from the field with an injured ankle.