For both the West Indies and New Zealand, the two back-to-back matches come as something of a novelty. The West Indies have not played a Test since last August at the Oval, since when they have had 19 of the abbreviated matches in Sharjah, Australia, India, Pakistan and at home. The New Zealanders have had 13 of the instant variety since their last Test in January. "It's the side that makes the adjustment to the Test match style of cricket quickest that will do well," was how New Zealand's captain, Lee Germon, put it. "It's a psychological attitude rather than a technical one and, in the two first-class matches we've had, we've struggled especially with the bat."
The adjustment for both involves more than just how to cope with five days rather than one. Since they last met in a Test in Wellington 14 months ago - won by the West Indies by an innings and 394 runs - both have endured turmoil within the ranks of team and administration that has undermined performance and led to change of captains, coaches, managers and board presidents.
The New Zealanders have now had eight months under their new leadership of Germon, plucked from the captaincy of his provincial side without any Test experience, and coach Glenn Turner, the former Test captain and prolific opener.
As always, short of star players they have moulded into a solid if unspectacular team, predictably more proficient in the limited overs game. They reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup where they gave Australia a scare and matched the West Indies in the one-day series here before losing 3- 2.
Any optimism they had coming into this Test has been appreciably diminished by injuries to all-rounder Chris Cairns, indisputably their most gifted and crucial individual, and fast bowler Dion Nash. Neither is fit enough to play, a situation that will concern their respective counties, Nottinghamshire and Middlesex.
The West Indian shake-up is more recent. A year of humiliating defeats, culminating in their demise against Kenya in the World Cup, and open wrangling within the team has led to the retirement of the beleaguered captain Richie Richardson and the sacking of coach Andy Roberts.
Courtney Walsh and the revered former captain Clive Lloyd replaced them and now have their first Test, in every sense of the word, together. The selectors have predictably ignored demands for wholesale changes in personnel and have limited their newcomers to two - Robert Samuels, a left-handed opening batsman from Jamaica, and the appropriately named Patterson Thompson, a burly tearaway fast bowler from Barbados.
Recent inconsistent performances have simply highlighted the heavy dependence on the batting of Brian Lara and the bowling of Curtly Ambrose. It is not surprising, given his temperamental behaviour of the past year, that Lara enters the match with an untimely cloud over his head. He faces the disciplinary committee of the West Indies Board for the second time in six months over the widely publicised altercation he had with long-serving team physiotherapist, the Australian Dennis Waight, within the next week.Reuse content