WELL INTO the final day of the decisive third Test yesterday, the contest had developed into the same old, disheartening story for the West Indies.
It took the composure and intelligence of a couple of the five bowlers whose selection had supposedly weakened the batting to avoid more of the humiliation that has long since been the team’s default position.
The defiance of Jason Holder and Shane Shillingford in an eighth wicket partnership that added 77 and occupied 28.1 overs either side of tea could not deny New Zealand their victory by 53 runs, completed with 10.5 overs still available in the afternoon sunshine.
It did demonstrate to the top order batsmen what could be achieved by the level-headed approach they have glaringly lacked.
In his debut Test, Holder, whose height suggests his preferred sport should be basketball, and Shillingford, an off-spinner at No.9, came together quarter of hour before the second interval with all the main batsmen, captain Denesh Ramdin and fast bowler Kemar Roach all dismissed.
Only they and the unreliable Sulieman Benn and Jerome Taylor remained with as many as 47 of the 98 allocated overs remaining.
It seemed only a matter of quick time before New Zealand completed the victory on the ground where they had secured their one and only in the West Indies 11 years earlier, precursor to a 1-0 triumph in the mini-series of two Tests, their last away from home until now.
They did eventually seal the deal. It was not before Holder and Shillingford delayed them, gradually creating obvious unease among the New Zealanders whose fielding had been tigerish and their field placing carefully planned.
As in the first innings, Holder interspersed tight, long forward defence with sweet drives that had the sprinkling of spectators cheering; there was also a clean straight hit for six from off-spinner Mark Craig.
His defiance lasted two hours and 79 balls before Craig, from round the wicket, bowled him between his legs.
Shillingford’s unbeaten 53 from 29 balls at the end of the first Test defeat was the second fastest 50 in Tests. This was not the place for such swashbuckling.
When defeat was formalised by Taylor’s dismissal in the third over with the second new ball, yorked by the left-armer Neil Wagner, Shillingford was unbeaten 30; he had resisted for 101 balls over two hours, 10 minutes.
New Zealand’s captain Brendon McCullum wasted no time declaring at his overnight 331 for seven, challenging the West Indies to score 308 from the day’s allocated 98 overs at 3.16 runs an over to take the match and the series 2-1.
It was not an implausible target on a last day pitch still in reasonable order; they had accumulated their first innings 317 at 3.26 an over.
It was never a consideration once Kraigg Brathwaite, Kirk Edwards and Chris Gayle were swept away by the two fast bowlers, left-armer Trent Boult and Tim Southee, within the first three-quarters of an hour, making it 31 for three after 10 overs.
Brathwaite presented no stroke to a ball too close to him that diverted off the pad into his off-stump. Edwards did the same; the review saved him on height -- just. Soon, he edged to first slip off Boult. Gayle followed three overs later, bowled inside edging a drive at Southee.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Darren Bravo, Denesh Ramdin and two brief rain breaks delayed the New Zealanders for 36.1 overs between them.
None lasted long enough to upset their plans.
Chanderpaul was lured out of his ground by Craig’s flight and stumped for 25. It was not entirely surprising that it was the first such dismissal for the usually crease-bound left-hander in 266 Test innings.
Ramdin edged to first slip off Southee; Bravo, hemmed in by three close-in fielders in his favourite area through the off-side, fell for the bait for the second time for the match, the umpteenth in his career. His slashed drive off Southee precisely found gully’s lap.
It left the five bowlers to restore what pride they could. Holder and Shillingford did well but it was never going to be enough against opponents who would not be deprived of their glory.