New Zealand stars struggle to prove fitness for West Indies clash

Blacks Caps may be forced to go into  first Test with an understrength side. New Zealand have injury concerns over […]

Blacks Caps may be forced to go into  first Test with an understrength side.

New Zealand have injury concerns over captain Brendon McCullum and batsman Kane Williamson as they prepare for this week’s opening Test against the West Indies, with the hosts chasing their first series win for five years.

Williamson, recovering from a broken thumb, said on Sunday there was no guarantee he would play in the Dunedin Test starting on Tuesday while McCullum requires painkillers for a back injury.

“It comes down to the medical staff and myself talking,” said Williamson, who bats at number three for the Black Caps.

“We need to discuss (the risk) because it won’t be 100 percent, and the way it can be managed still needs to be discussed depending on the recovery in the next few days.”

McCullum, who returned home early from the recent tour of Bangladesh because of his back problems, said he is in regular pain but has dismissed reports that he could be forced to retire.

“There’s times where it doesn’t make the game that enjoyable, but overall everyone else has to deal with injuries as well and this is just one that I’m going to have to push through, unfortunately,” he said.

McCullum said a bigger concern for him was needing to “lead from the front” and overcome a batting slump that saw him score just 54 runs in three Test innings against Bangladesh, followed by 22 and 10 against the West Indies in a tour warm-up game.

The West Indies arrived in Dunedin smarting after two innings defeats in India and captain Darren Sammy said the three-Test New Zealand tour would give his players a chance to put that disappointment behind them.

“India was a lesson for us, to show us where we are compared to the top teams in the world. Now we are playing a team where we are evenly matched,” he said.

The West Indies are currently ranked sixth in the world — two spots ahead of New Zealand — but will be without powerful opening batsman Chris Gayle, who has been sidelined by a hamstring injury.

Only two members of the West Indies squad have toured New Zealand before — Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Denesh Ramdin — and the Blacks Caps sense they can take advantage of the touring bowlers’ lack of knowledge of local conditions.

“We’re always talking about our batting,” said New Zealand assistant coach Bob Carter.

“We’ve got more people scoring runs and that’s what we’ve got to keep on producing in this series, particularly getting to 400 in the first innings of a Test match. You look all around the world, that’s key.”

New Zealand have beaten Zimbabwe and Bangladesh in one-off Tests in recent years but their last series win was against Bangladesh in 2008.

The second Test starts in Wellington on December 11 and the final Test is in Hamilton from December 19.

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