Auckland - New Zealand and West Indies have had identical runs in ODI cricket in the lead-up to this five-match series, but the hosts begin as clear favourites.
Known for their limited-overs prowess, West Indies haven’t had the best calendar year in cricket; they have lost 13 of the 23 ODIs this year. The tour of New Zealand, always a tough challenge, was made even harder by their inconsistency in the Tests and their chances of fashioning a turnaround on the tour were dealt a blow with the loss of Marlon Samuels to injury. They are already without Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard.
A second successive Test series loss is a hard result to set aside but a change at the helm may help West Indies in the ODIs. Dwayne Bravo didn’t play the Tests and isn’t burdened by the baggage of the loss. Darren Bravo, D Ramdin and Sunil Narine were impressive in the Tests and the West Indies bowling looks stronger with the return of Jason Holder and Ravi Rampaul. This isn’t their strongest ODI side by any stretch, but they can challenge New Zealand who have had their own struggles in the recent past.
New Zealand’s gains from their away series wins against South Africa and England were offset by the 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Bangladesh and a drawn ODI series in Sri Lanka. They were hit by injuries in the latter half of the year. Unlike West Indies, New Zealand face a happier headache of selection. Jesse Ryder, Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor - who was rested from the Sri Lanka tour - are all back in the squad.
Guptill and Ryder have shown good form in the Plunket Shield matches leading up to the series - while Guptill has struck at least a fifty in each first-class match he has played this season, Ryder has scored three tons and two half-centuries. Corey Anderson, James Neesham, Colin Munro and Kane Williamson are the other options McCullum has to pick from in a line-up that bats deep. Tim Southee’s injury has weakened their bowling a little, but his absence might give Adam Milne a chance.
Irrespective of whether he plays, a considerable amount of attention will be on Jesse Ryder. The allrounder has had a torrid journey since deciding to step back from cricket in 2012. The assault in Christchurch, for which he was put in medically induced coma, was followed by a drugs-related suspension. Since his return to competitive cricket for his new domestic side, Otago, Ryder has been in remarkable form and is making good on his aim to cement a place in the national side.
D Sammy finds himself with the challenge of staying relevant to the West Indies side in Tests and ODIs. Earlier in the year, he was shunted from the ODI captaincy, and after the Test in Hamilton, mulled that his job as Test captain could be on the line, too. There have been flashes of form - his unbeaten 63 against India in the second ODI inspired the side to their sole win on the tour - but he needs to be more consistent.
Pitch and conditions: Eden Park is known for its short boundaries and the pitch is expected to be a good batting track. New Zealand, will, be hoping to avoid their last performance at Eden Park, when they were out for 185 against England. Light showers are forecast for the match day.
If Ryder is picked in the playing XI, it will be interesting to see if New Zealand ease him back through the middle order or play him up front. Guptill looks set to reclaim the opening spot, while Nathan McCullum is likely to handle spin-bowling duties. With Chadwick replacing the injured Samuels, WI have three wicketkeepers in their ODI squad. The toss-up will be between Johnson Charles and D Ramdin. If Charles plays, it’s likely he will open the batting, but if WI opt for Ramdin, a new pair might open.
NEW ZEALAND (PROBABLE): Martin Guptill, Luke Ronchi (wk), Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder/James Neesham, Brendon McCullum (capt), Corey Anderson, Nathan McCullum, Mitchell McClenaghan, Kyle Mills, Adam Milne.
WEST INDIES (PROBABLE): Johnson Charles (wk), Kieran Powell, Darren Bravo, Kirk Edwards/Narsingh Deonarine, Lendl Simmons, Dwayne Bravo (capt), Darren Sammy, Sunil Narine, Jason Holder, Ravi Rampaul, Tino Best.