New Zealand shaken and stirred
In his novel Goldfinger, author Ian Fleming wrote: "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action". This was in reference to the title character's meetings with James Bond. While not as dramatic, that phrase holds some relevance to the public mood towards the New Zealand team after their latest collapse, the second sub-100 innings in six Tests.
Here was the eighth-best side in the world, who had competed credibly across three Tests and three days with No. 2, England, dispatched in an hour and 54 minutes for 68 at Lord's. Remarkably it was only their third-lowest score in 82 years' cricket at the ground after episodes of 47 in 1958 and 67 in 1978.
Given the surrender for 45 in the first innings in Cape Town, a traumatised public will take a while to stop shuddering when two quick wickets are lost anytime soon. They are shaken and stirred. The Lord's rout prised a scab off prematurely, regardless of the message coach Mike Hesson repeated several times post-match about "18 days" of reputable Test cricket since South Africa.
Unfortunately that calculation leaves eight days since the start of the year buried under question marks. The 68 consisted of the second-lowest number of overs New Zealand have faced in an innings (22.3). Cape Town was the lowest (19.2). It is the third time New Zealand have been six down for less than 40 this year - the same happened in Port Elizabeth until BJ Watling helped cobble together 121.
A third capitulation, at Headingley, might not result in enemy action but it will undo the repair work that highlighted the home summer. Hesson summed up the situation well when he said: "The location, the occasion and the chance to win a Test at Lord's got to us. We were a bit timid with the bat and the quality England bowlers took hold."
The exception on the fourth day was Tim Southee who became the 17th New Zealander to be immortalised on the visitors' dressing-room honours board with innings figures of 6 for 50 and match figures of 10 for 108. He joins Dion Nash as the only other New Zealander to take 10 or more wickets in a Test at the Marylebone Cricket Club. It was his first Test 10-wicket bag, underlining his status as the country's premier strike bowler.
New Zealand fans could be forgiven a bout of indigestion during their Nursery ground picnics as their team slumped to 29 for 6 at lunch. Even Father Time had turned his back from atop his weather vane and looked like he was scarpering for St John's Wood Rd as the clock struck 1pm. The prospect of a second Test win in 16 attempts at Lord's was gone.
The batting order faced an uncompromising bowling double act in Stuart Broad and James Anderson, who swung the ball from a full length anywhere from off to an imaginary fourth stump. Any international batsman would have found it formidable.
Experts have spoken of a lack of footwork being the main culprit, which left most fending at the ball with their bat and hands. There are even suggestions among observers that New Zealand should practise without bats to get feet moving into line with the ball, so they are better prepared to play on spicier wickets than at home. Another thought was to bring in Headingley and Yorkshire doyen Geoffrey Boycott to observe and offer batting home truths at practice this week. Injuries to Watling and Bruce Martin didn't help. Martin's right-calf injury has subsequently seen him head home.
Consequently the team is leaning towards playing Daniel Vettori if he proves his fitness. He will be tested in the coming days after working as a net bowler without game time for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL. Vettori last played a Test for New Zealand in July on the West Indies tour.
A look through 2013 Headingley scorecards raises questions about its spin-friendliness. The best bowling by a spinner has come from former legspinner Adil Rashid. He took match figures of 5 for 183 from 50 overs when Yorkshire crushed Derbyshire by an innings and 39 runs at the start of May. Otherwise match figures suggest it has been a seamer's den, including a number of five-wicket bags. Not even England left-arm orthodox spinner Monty Panesar could get a wicket, albeit in early April, when he finished with none for 64 off 26 overs for the match.
If Vettori is not fit, New Zealand will consider calling in Jeetan Patel, who is playing at Warwickshire and took a five-wicket bag against Yorkshire at Edgbaston last week. Patel played and was subsequently dropped after the tour to South Africa.
Cloud cover and rain are in the long-range forecast. Pakistan used such conditions to their advantage in Leeds for a three-wicket win in the neutral 2010 Test series against Australia. Convicted spot-fixers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir worked their magic on that occasion.
Hesson did not rule out overhead conditions influencing team thinking where Doug Bracewell could play as a fourth pace bowler. If Watling is ruled out, McCullum might take the gloves and bat at No. 7, with Martin Guptill or Tom Latham slotting into the middle order. Alternatively Latham could take the gloves after doing the job against Derbyshire. The instinct is to stick with the status quo where possible. They deserve perseverance. However, a collapse from a potential winning position requires introspection.
If Watling plays then it seems foolish to panic and change an order that largely delivered in more batting-friendly New Zealand conditions. The Hamish Rutherford-Peter Fulton combination looks fragile in England, yet both players have made two centuries against English attacks of late. Fulton made his in the third Test, at Eden Park; Rutherford scored his on debut, in Dunedin, and against the Lions at Grace Road.
Hesson offered loyalty to Fulton in particular, who has struggled with just 34 runs from five innings on tour. English conditions have troubled his game, despite intense extra workouts with batting coach Bob Carter. Fulton's dismissals have included a couple of lbws and a concrete-footed waft to Broad in his second innings at Lord's. The rest of the order warrants a reprieve.
Andrew Alderson is cricket writer at New Zealand's Herald on Sunday