While they had to face heartbreak in the final of the 2019 ICC World Cup in England, New Zealand now have a chance to go top of the ICC Test rankings for the first time in history as they get ready to square-off against Sri Lanka in a two-match series.
The No2 ranked Black Caps can secure the top ranking in the format should they beat the hosts 2-0 in the upcoming series but they will also need Windies to avert a series clean sweep by India at the same time.
If the Kiwis are able to win both upcoming Tests and top-ranked India fail to win even one of their two clashes against West Indies, then it will be Kane Williamson and his men who will ascend to the top of the ranking.
“If that happens that would be great,” New Zealand skipper Williamson was quoted as saying by AFP on the eve of the first Test against Sri Lanka at Galle.
“But I guess there’s a bigger picture. The thing with rankings is that they just fluctuate throughout a season. For us, we just want to be focusing on the cricket and give ourselves the best chance of success.”
With the inaugural World Test Championship getting underway earlier this month, all teams will have their eyes on making the final which takes place at Lord’s after the completion of a two-year cycle.
For Williamson, the prospect of making the Lord’s final of the Test Championship is more enticing than securing the No1 ranking in the format.
“I think it’s a welcome addition to the Test format, bringing that context into every Test match you play,” the Kiwi stated.
“No matter what team you play at any level it’s very, very competitive.
“But now there’s that added carrot where, in two years’ time, everyone’s vying for a spot in that championship final which would be a really exciting thing to be a part of.”
The first Test between Sri Lanka and New Zealand gets underway at Galle on Wednesday. Meanwhile, West Indies and India will lock horns in a two-Test series which will begin on August 22 at Antigua.
Veteran Pakistan all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez has been signed for Middlesex on a short-term deal that will see him play three Vitality T20 Blast clashes for the outfit.
Hafeez has been roped in by the Lord’s-based county outfit as a short-term replacement for South African ace AB de Villiers who has taken a brief break from the tournament.
The former Proteas batsman is expected to return for Middlesex’s penultimate league stage clash against Hampshire which is slated to take place on August 29.
Hafeez has only recently completed his stint in the Global T20 Canada with the Edmonton Royals and the Pakistan man is expected to join up with Middlesex ahead of their clash against Essex on Wednesday. He will also be available for the subsequent clashes against Hampshire and Sussex before de Villiers returns to take his place in the squad.
The 38-year-old all-rounder has played 55 Tests, 218 ODIs and 89 T20s for Pakistan over the course of his career and was a part of the side which finished fifth in the 2019 World Cup recently in England.
The experienced veteran was recently excluded from the new central contracts handed out by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) along with Shoaib Malik. While he hung up his Test cricket boots last year, Hafeez is yet to announce his retirement from the limited-overs formats and remains available for selection.
Hafeez will join his compatriot Babar Azam in England for the T20 Blast with the 24-year-old batsman currently leading the run-scoring charts in the competition with 434 runs in nine innings for Somerset at an average of 62.
After comprehensively dominating the T20 clashes which they swept by 3-0, India will be looking to add the ODI series as well to their kitty when they take the field against the West Indies in the third and final match in Trinidad on Wednesday.
It was at the same venue where India emerged victorious in the second ODI to take an unassailable 1-0 lead in the three-match series after the first match at Guyana was washed out.
Potential Gayle swansong
With Chris Gayle not being picked for the Test series to come against India, Wednesday’s clash could potentially be his international swansong. The 39-year-old was originally due to retire after the completion of the 2019 World Cup but expressed his desire to return for one more series against India.
The veteran has been granted his wish and he seized his chance to full effect by overtaking Brian Lara in the second ODI to become the highest run-scorer for West Indies in the format.
It was also the 300th ODI appearance for the Jamaican who is now the most-capped player in Windies history, and he will be hoping to go out with a bang in Trinidad if it is indeed to be the final curtain call for his international career.
The explosive southpaw hasn’t exactly set the series on fire so far with just 15 runs in two innings and the hosts will hope he can produce one of his trademark big-hitting spectacles on Wednesday.
Inconsistencies costing Windies dear
It has been a sorry state of affairs for the hosts in the limited-overs clashes against India with the players being plagued by inconsistency. It is a young squad at the disposal of Jason Holder, bar a few exceptions like Gayle, and the lack of experience has reflected in their play.
Only Evin Lewis, and to an extent Nicholas Pooran, showed any resistance with the bat in the second ODI and the story was very much the same in the preceding T20 series. While Pooran has failed to convert any of his several starts in the T20s and ODIs, Shimron Hetmyer’s contributions have been virtually non-existent in both series.
With Gayle also misfiring in the two ODIs, it is clear to see why the hosts have struggled.
The Caribbean side have now not won an ODI series since all the way back in 2014 and they will be desperate to avoid another loss.
Iyer answers call but question mark remains on Pant
With India’s selectors ringing the changes after the World Cup semi-final exit, the tour was a chance for several players on the fringes to stake their claim for a permanent place in the squad.
The biggest question mark was over the middle-order spots and one-half of that seems to have been answered with Shreyas Iyer’s encouraging display in the second ODI. The right-hander struck a fine 68-ball 71 in what was his first opportunity on the tour and looks to have bought himself some more time in the team.
The displays of Rishabh Pant, on the other hand, have been less than encouraging with the wicketkeeper/batsman’s limited-overs woes continuing. Bar one unbeaten knock of 65 in the third T20, the left-hander has misfired on most occasions with his decision-making in particular being suspect.
The youngster has been given umpteen chances now in the ODI format and he will have to start applying himself better before the selectors are forced to turn to someone else to fill MS Dhoni’s boots.
West Indies: Evin Lewis, Chris Gayle, Shai Hope (wk), Nicholas Pooran, Shimron Hetmyer, Roston Chase, Jason Holder (c), Carlos Brathwaite, Kemar Roach, Sheldon Cottrell, Oshane Thomas
India: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli (c), Rishabh Pant (wk), Shreyas Iyer, Kedar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Kuldeep Yadav, Khaleel Ahmed