They are the world champions in this format, but will this depleted squad cut it against a rampant New Zealand? A small galaxy of T20 stars has not made the trip. Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine have pulled out due to personal reasons. Dwayne Bravo and Darren Sammy are at odds with the board. Marlon Samuels was withdrawn due to injury.
While Chris Gayle and ace legspinner Samuel Badree are present, West Indies still have the potential to blow the opposition away, but they haven’t exactly left themselves with the best possible chance of ending New Zealand’s five-match winning streak on this tour. The visitors are relying on the lesser-known agents of firepower – the likes of Andre Fletcher, and Shimron Hetmyer – and on the sudden exuberance that seems to invade their cricket when they switch to the shortest format.
The hosts are somewhat depleted themselves – Kane Williamson being rested for the first T20, leaving Tim Southee to lead the side. Trent Boult – unstoppable in the ODIs – is also being given a two-match break. New Zealand will be wary of West Indies’ reputation, but not worried just yet, so emphatically have they turned home conditions to their favour in the last few weeks.
Although Carlos Brathwaite’s form has been patchy in domestic T20 tournaments, the captaincy appears to be treating him well at the top level. He averages 48 with the bat across five innings this year, though at a modest strike rate of 116. With the ball, he has consistently taken wickets, but even more importantly, West Indies are performing under his leadership, having won six of their last seven games. Most of those victories had come with Narine and Samuels in the XI, however. In going up against a strong home side with this particular squad, Brathwaite faces perhaps his sternest captaincy challenge yet.
There can be little question. Adam Milne is no longer the quickest bowler in New Zealand. That mantle has passed to Lockie Ferguson, who has been fast tracked into the national side, and is beginning to enjoy success at the top level. For now, he is getting wickets with pure pace, hitting the wickets before batsmen have a chance to play their shots, and prompting panicked fending with well-directed bouncers. Having seen him through the ODIs now, West Indies will feel themselves more capable of countering Ferguson in a format where the very quick bowlers can often be expensive.