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New Zealand bask in position of strength

New Zealand 337 and 243 West Indies 107 and 5-0

New Zealand strengthened their stranglehold on the first Test yesterday and have two days to convert their superiority into their first victory in 12 Tests in the Caribbean since the first of their four tours in 1972.

Even in the absence of their leading fast bowler, Merv Dillon, for all but six overs with a back strain, the West Indies made a spirited effort to regain the ground recklessly surrendered in their first innings collapse to 107 on the second day. But it was too little, too late.

Although they restricted New Zealand's second innings to 243, it left them with a winning target of 474 never before reached in any Test.Their openers survived four overs at the end of the day but, on a wearing pitch and with their inconsistent batting, they would do well even to extend their purposeful opponents very far into the last day.

If New Zealand do complete the job, it would be a signal triumph in more ways than one. Kensington Oval has long been a virtual fortress for the West Indies, who have been beaten only three times in the 39 Tests on the ground and who thrashed India by 10 wickets in the previous Test six weeks earlier.

Only a typically belligerent attack by Nathan Astle on wayward fast bowler Adam Sanford immediately after lunch broke the pattern of a dour, attritional day's cricket before another small crowd of a couple thousand. Astle hammered four of his 11 fours in Sanford's first over on resumption and three more before captain Carl Hooper removed the struggling bowler after he conceded 35 from three overs.

Astle's 77 and his sixth-wicket partnership of 76 with captain Stephen Fleming, batting down the order because of a stiff neck, steadied New Zealand after they lost their first five wickets for 88.

Astle was one of six deserving wickets for 76 for the left-arm swing bowler Pedro Collins who stoically filled the breach left by Dillon. He kept going for 30 overs on a humid, overcast day for his best return in his 12 Tests. He should have had a couple more but Ramnaresh Sarwan dropped two sharp chances, the first at shortleg off Chris Harris first ball, the second at cover when Astle was 12.

It was Sarwan's 22nd birthday but, following his first ball duck the previous day, he was unlikely to celebrate it with champagne and dinner at one of Barbados' plush hotels.