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Against Zimbabwe in Napier, New Zealand weren't content with just winning, but doing it with relentlessness. Under John Wright, the team looks more cohesive
January 29, 2012
The New Zealand victory over a rebuilding Zimbabwe was demanded and delivered, but it was the way the team conducted itself that gave cause to think this is more than just a blip on their flatlining Test form of recent years. The significance of the win is more about the camaraderie steadily building under coach John Wright.
Since November the team has three wins from four Tests (albeit two against Zimbabwe) but it was the character the side showed in the seven-run win over Australia in Hobart which flowed into Saturday's win. The New Zealanders were uncompromising in their efforts to concertina a result into three days, one of which was affected by weather.
Firstly, it showed in the field. New Zealand's performance was comprehensive, with few errors. The Zimbabwe batting was weak but a similar looking outfit (minus captain Brendan Taylor) made 329 against the NZ XI the previous week in the Gisborne warm-up match. Why should they suddenly capitulate for 51 (their lowest Test score) and 143 on a decent batting pitch?
The main reason was New Zealand's relentlessness. Thirteen of the 20 wickets were caught behind the wicket by a largely three slip, two gully cordon endowed with Alcatraz hands. Nothing was escaping. Dean Brownlie spilt the only catch at 4.21pm off the bat of Graeme Cremer. In Brownlie's defence, he picked up four at third slip in the first innings and another in the second. Among New Zealand fieldsmen (not keepers) that first-innings effort is only bettered by Stephen Fleming (with five against Zimbabwe in 1997).
Ground fielding glitches were also rare. Replacement fielder Sam Wells bobbled a ball and threw inaccurately at 5.40pm to concede an overthrow. BJ Watling could be proud of his wicketkeeping debut under intense public scrutiny. Making a maiden Test century, taking four catches in the second innings - including the one to win the Test in the extra half hour's play - and conceding just four byes to a loose Trent Boult delivery down the leg side meant he more than held his own.
Secondly, the New Zealand bowlers, led by Man-of-the-Match Chris Martin, sustained the pressure, delivering in tight channels with just a gentle sea breeze for assistance. Revolving the spells of the four pacemen proved as successful as when employed in the second Test against Australia. Martin took career-best figures of 6 for 26 runs in the second innings. The return took him to 218 Test wickets, third-equal with Chris Cairns on the all-time New Zealand list. More importantly, the 37-year-old is showing the next generation of Doug Bracewell, Tim Southee and Boult how to apply themselves in the game's longest form.
In addition to Martin's leadership with the ball, Brendon McCullum's tactical nous was evident in Ross Taylor's injured absence. His gambler instincts were to the fore. It was rare if five men were not in the slip cordon, often with a leg slip and short leg attacking too.
Finally, the New Zealand dressing room is breeding a more inclusive culture. It was reflected in their post-match celebration. The team ventured to the wicket to have a drink and a chant once the crowds had gone. Bonds are being cemented. Returning to the shed, Martin (the oldest player) joked with Watling (the man with the newest role); McCullum spoke at length with former Test opening batsman Robert "Jumbo" Anderson; a calf-strapped Taylor hobbled along, soaking it up on crutches - rehabilitation can wait when you have just won a Test. Riffs from tunes like New Zealand band The Exponents' "Why does love do this to me?" floated up to the press box from the dressing-room bunker. Such unadulterated camaraderie is not only uplifting but vital if they are to progress from eighth in the Test rankings during a busy year playing in the West Indies, India, Sri Lanka and South Africa.
The New Zealanders are approaching the looming South Africa tour in the best possible frame of mind.
Andrew Alderson is cricket writer at New Zealand's Herald on SundayFeeds: Andrew Alderson
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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