New Zealand in England 2013 May 29, 2013

Brittle batting stunts New Zealand's growth

The bowlers could not have done much more, but New Zealand's top order was unpicked by the England attack to revive questions about the personnel in the line-up

"Houston… we've had a problem here."

The haunting words of Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert about 320,000km from Earth might ring true for the New Zealand cricketers as they venture into one-day mode, first against England and then in the Champions Trophy.

Fortunately their problem is not an oxygen tank exploding in outer space and they're no more than 18,000km from home but captain Brendon McCullum's comments after the 2-0 Test series loss to England suggested they're some distance from where they'd like to be on the batting front.

McCullum admitted the result has riddled his team with self-doubt, despite improvements during the drawn home series.

The visitors could muster just 669 runs over four innings in England, the principle reason they'll remain eighth in the Test rankings probably until at least 2014. Their next Test series is in Bangladesh during October before a home summer against West Indies and India.

New Zealand's spell without a victory in England now extends to 14 years. Hopes of such rewards turned on their heel and exited through the picket fence on the Sunday at Lord's when they were routed for 68.

"That's a fair assessment," McCullum said. "Until that point our self-belief was high. It ripped our hearts out and started to create self-doubt which is a horrible thing in this game. That's what unfolded in this test. We had periods where we dominated but they didn't last long enough."

Any series where bowlers Neil Wagner and Tim Southee, averaging 25 and 19 respectively, feature in the top five batting averages makes grim reading.

Ross Taylor is the only batsman to come away with respectability. He produced two half-centuries of 66 at Lord's and 70 at Headingley in batting performances which eventually concertinaed.

Questions over New Zealand's inability to bat more than a couple of sessions endure.

The visitors lacked the skills to cope with Graeme Swann when he got near the left-armer footmarks or the England pace trio swinging, seaming and generating steepling bounce on occasion. Eyes will be trained on how the batting department, led by Bob Carter, counters such regular implosions.

The Test futures of Martin Guptill, Peter Fulton and Dean Brownlie will come in for scrutiny. Guptill only played at Headingley, with at least one of his 31 matches against every Test-playing nation, but he averages less than 30 against all but Bangladesh (two innings at 245), West Indies (four innings at 69.25) and Zimbabwe (three innings at 53.33). The New Zealand cricketer of the year will likely be forced to concentrate on limited-overs for now, with a fit BJ Watling worthy of retention and McCullum moving back up the order.

Fulton's assessment might seem harsh after his golden return during the home series against England with two centuries at Eden Park. However, his tour record of 67 runs at 9.57 reads ominously. Still, he has been the best opening candidate domestically. There are few alternatives unless they return to Aaron Redmond, Michael Papps, Daniel Flynn or experiment with Jeet Raval.

Brownlie showed resolve during the second innings at Headingley only to get a brute of a ball from Steven Finn which he gloved to gully. At least he endured 96 minutes for his 25 in a partnership of 79 with Taylor. Brownlie remains under inspection for a lack of runs outside the hard and fast wickets of Australia and South Africa. He has been sent to India to practise against spin, but Swann bowling him between bat and pad in the first innings must have been galling.

McCullum agreed the team was mentally worn down. "There was an element of that. England grew in confidence after that last innings at Lord's and we started to doubt ourselves as a batting group. Once that creeps in it's hard to stop. It's definitely a step backwards. England flexed their muscle and we failed to respond."

Compounding the failure is left-armer Trent Boult's right side strain which leaves him in doubt for the Champions Trophy. He will be assessed in London but his impact across both Test series has been profound, taking 19 wickets at 25.47 including Alastair Cook four times. Ian Butler will take leave of his Lashings XI commitments if injury strikes.

There's no reason New Zealand can't chart a course back into batting form. They will benefit from a spike in experience for the 50-over format with eight new players. McCullum welcomed the transition, especially into a side which won an ODI series in South Africa for the first time in January.

The 30-somethings - Grant Elliott, James Franklin, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills and Daniel Vettori - each bring a wealth of limited overs experience. Mitchell McClenaghan also opened the bowling with aggression and reward against South Africa while Colin Munro can be a brutal middle-order hitter.

Luke Ronchi will debut as an opener. He's sat out his four-year stand down after playing four ODIs and three T20s for Australia. It's under discussion whether Ronchi or McCullum will keep in the upcoming ODIs. Ronchi took the gloves in the warm-up match against a Northamptonshire XI.

Concerns were raised about McCullum's fitness for the job when he became stiff filling in for Watling in the second test. "I wasn't as fluent as I would like," he said.

The team finds out whether they're ready for re-entry into a decent batting atmosphere on Friday at Lord's.

Andrew Alderson is cricket writer at New Zealand's Herald on Sunday

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ADARSH on May 31, 2013, 9:31 GMT

    NZ may be weak on paper but still they get through and play well in big tournaments.

    My 11 would be 1) Guptill 2) B.Mccullum 3) Taylor 4) Colin 5) Kane 6) Elliot 7) Franklin 8) Vettori 9) Southee 10) McClenaghan 11) Mills.

  • siddhartha on May 30, 2013, 16:11 GMT

    In my opinion Williamson has been give too much responsibility at young age.He would be better at no 5 or no 6.But again the question is who will bat at no 3. After 3-4 years of test cricket Guptil still averages below 30 which is not a god sign.Fulton should be given an extended run in my opinion.On paper the batting line up of kiwis in 2nd test really looked solid but still they failed.

  • brendan on May 30, 2013, 13:23 GMT

    @SameOld yeah I would go with that team with probably Watling over Brownlie, seems a bit rough with his 100 against SA and performance against Aussie but Watling looks a good long term prospect. Plus if we're going to have Ronchi we can't have two Aussies in the team... Wagner over Bracewell too, dude is a real competitor which we're sometimes lacking.

    Hope we never go down the road of chucking in middle order players to open again though, has been disastrous in the past. Not too sure if Fulton is a long term fix either but whoever replaces him should be a specialist opener.

    Long term for NZ domestic comp: bowler friendly pitches and the Duke, make it hard so our batsmen get used to tough conditions.

  • jared on May 30, 2013, 5:18 GMT

    McCullum is annoying, he is the best captain but isn't really good enough with the bat for tests, he can do it, just not often enough so the conundrum is do we pick him for his captaincy? Someone soon has to make a hard decision because our batting is woefull so change is needed and McCullum is as guilty as any of them. My XI for bagladesh would be. Hamish Rutherford, Carl Cachopa, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Craig Cachopa, Jesse Ryder (if fit and available) Luke Ronchi, Tim Southee, Ish Sohdi, Adam Milne, Trent Boult. McCullum can rest his back against a team we should beat, give some new batters a chance to see if they are any better, cover all the bases with the bowling, pace, swing, spin both ways. Sounds experimental or just plain mental but im sick of seeing the same guys make the same mistakes, give someone else a go

  • D on May 30, 2013, 3:09 GMT

    Jamie How is due a recall in the opening slot. Nos. 5 and 6 are tough to fill, though, because I don't see any standout performers in the domestic scene. Please come back Jesse!

  • P on May 30, 2013, 2:56 GMT

    Perhaps NZ need to bring in another young batsmen or two, work on them for the next series and see how they go. Need to look for consistency and application.

  • Dummy4 on May 30, 2013, 2:54 GMT

    Seriously you can't drop McCullum no one else better

  • Paul on May 30, 2013, 2:50 GMT

    Why single out Guptil, Fulton and Brownlie? There's not a single NZ batsman (correct me if I'm wrong) with a batting average above 42. That's Taylor - and the harsh reality is he's the lone Test quality batsman in the NZ top seven. You don't win Tests with batsman averaging in the 30s. And Rutherford, much as I'd like him to succeed, looks like another Phil Hughes. He's too loose outside off to be considered a serious Test opener. Hope he proves me wrong.

  • Ryan on May 30, 2013, 2:21 GMT

    The best (or the majority of best) first-class players are in the BCs. They were better than this and I have faith they will improve in the test game. And @somethingdifferent & @hettypie who would replace BMac? He averaged 82.6 in the Eng home test's and has just had bad series in England, have some faith you sound like English supporters!