A minefield awaits New Zealand and the West Indies when they step on to Antigua's Sir Vivian Richards Stadium early tomorrow morning.
Black Caps batsman Brendon McCullum yesterday described the wicket block as being lined with ridges, while also predicting that balls would turn and spit off a length.
New Zealand are fresh off a three-day warmup match against a West Indies Board XI on the same ground, which McCullum said had helped them clarify their selection policy for the first test.
He indicated that legspinner Tarun Nethula would be left out of the final XI, with Daniel Vettori the only specialist slow bowler. With the ridges making the ball go "up and down", McCullum said New Zealand were likely to field three quick bowlers.
Captain Ross Taylor said a debut for Otago left-armer Neil Wagner was "a big chance", with Chris Martin as his new-ball partner. That would probably mean Doug Bracewell getting the job of bowling first change.
Trent Boult is out of the calculations due to a quad injury, while Tim Southee is the only other quick bowler in the party.
Wicketkeeper/batsman BJ Watling is the other unavailable member of the squad, leaving New Zealand with 13 fit players to pick from.
Their batting performances in the warmup match left a bit to be desired, but Taylor and McCullum both dismissed their relevance.
Kemar Roach was the only frontline board XI bowler to make the West Indies' 13-strong test squad, despite them restricting New Zealand to totals of 149 and 181-8 in the three-day game.
Tino Best and Ravi Rampaul join Roach as the pace bowlers in the squad, which includes boom spinner Sunil Narine. The big inclusion is blockbusting opening batsman Chris Gayle, selected for test duty for the first time since December 2010. Gayle averages 74.54 against New Zealand in test cricket, and feasted on their bowling during the recent Twenty20 and one-day international series.
Windies captain Darren Sammy hoped Gayle's inclusion would add some solidity to the top of their order, but described Narine as potentially the biggest danger to the Black Caps.
"We have a world-class spinner in Narine, who proved throughout the one-day and T20 competition that he's a handful here in the Caribbean," Sammy said.
"Batsmen don't have to attack him [in test cricket], but I still back him to go out there and do well for us. But we also have Ravi, Roach and Best, who could be really quick as well, so I think we have a really good balance in the squad."
Having wo the Twenty20 series 2-0 and won the one-dayers 4-1, the Windies are overwhelming favourites to do the same in the two tests.
West Indies: (from) Chris Gayle, Adrian Barath, Kieran Powell, Assad Fudadin, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Marlon Samuels, Narsingh Deonarine, Denesh Ramdin, Darren Sammy (c), Tino Best, Kemar Roach, Ravi Rampaul, Sunil Narine
New Zealand: (from) Daniel Flynn, Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor (c), Kane Williamson, Dean Brownlie, Daniel Vettori, Kruger van Wyk, Doug Bracewell, Neil Wagner, Chris Martin, Tarun Nethula, Tim Southee