October 28, 2013

Plenty to ponder for New Zealand

The two-Test series against Bangladesh offered some positives but concerns remain, especially with the bowling unit and opening combination

A sense of the inevitable surrounded New Zealand's drawn Test series against Bangladesh. Neither the world's No. 8 nor No. 10 seemed destined to profit on dull pitches with rain intervening to prevent the push for a result in Mirpur. If the annals of Test cricket were a house, this series would be the faded wallpaper in the spare bedroom. Yawn.

The visitors had everything to lose. Defeat would have built the perception they haven't made a modicum of progress since a solid home series against England. Yet New Zealand had the only realistic chance of winning both Tests. They made enough runs but lacked the penetrative bowling to take 20 wickets on unresponsive clay. The slip in points (from 79 to 75) on the Test rankings is almost irrelevant given Sri Lanka is seventh on 88 and Zimbabwe ninth on 34.

Pre-tour, coach Mike Hesson said any suggestion they should whitewash the hosts was "an uneducated view, given how well they play at home. It's a cauldron." Whether New Zealand talked themselves into a self-fulfilling prophecy is a moot point but Bangladesh have some skilful players emerging, such as Mominul Haque and Sohag Gazi.

Four areas are pertinent in the analysis of New Zealand's performance: the loss of bowling mojo, the emergence of Corey Anderson and Ish Sodhi, the status of the opening partnership, and the need for Kane Williamson to stamp his authority this summer.

The absence of Tim Southee's pace bowling was palpable. There was no doubting the toil of Trent Boult (three wickets at 58.66) and Doug Bracewell (three wickets at 71.33 - hampered by a couple of dropped catches in the second Test) but hollow exhaustion presided. Anderson also lacked spark - two of his three wickets were fortuitous, coming from short, wide deliveries. Neil Wagner looked sharp in the second Test, which included his first five-wicket bag in Tests. He again proved his worth at first change but Southee should offer extra venom once he recovers from his ankle injury. The situation wasn't helped by too many gift boundaries from spinners Bruce Martin and Sodhi in the first Test.

Sodhi struggled on debut but showed enough promise to get the nod over Martin for the second Test. It was the right call. New Zealand's search for a legspinner continues to be like that for the Holy Grail. Sodhi's arrival on the Test scene brings hope. On Thursday he celebrates his 21st birthday.

Since the country's best exponent, Jack Alabaster, eked out 49 wickets in 21 Tests between 1955 and 1972, legspinners have been rare. Only Greg Loveridge, Brooke Walker and Todd Astle have been picked with that skill in mind. They have seven Tests between them.

Sodhi packages rhythm, loop and speed and an attacking mindset into an action reminiscent of India's Anil Kumble. In the second Test his three first-innings wickets for 59 runs from 18.5 overs - including prominent allrounder Shakib Al Hasan - made you sit up straight on the couch. Eliminate the glut of four-balls and he'll threaten. Sodhi took just seven wickets at 73.14 in four matches on this winter's New Zealand development tour to India and Sri Lanka but the selection hunch appears to be paying off. His batting also looks promising, with 58 from No. 10 in New Zealand's first-innings 437 in the second Test.

New Zealand's opening partnership is worthy of perseverance but needs to show consistency to prove its initial compelling statistics

Similarly the backing of Anderson on the development tour, where he made a century against India A, is paying dividends. His bowling struggled for zest but he redeemed himself with the bat in true allrounder fashion. The maiden Test century in his second match lent gravitas to New Zealand's cause.

Elsewhere, the opening partnership is worthy of perseverance but needs to show consistency to prove its initial compelling statistics.

Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford are presumably ensconced for the home series against West Indies, injury permitting. They average 40.83 runs together in 12 innings against England and Bangladesh. Compare that to the revered, almost mythical combination of John Wright and Bruce Edgar who averaged 31.82 runs in 56 innings from 1978 to 1986 against Australian and West Indian attacks in their pomp. The incumbents deserve their spots on that evidence.

Still, there are question marks.

Fulton looks comfortable on relatively flat tracks (for example, Eden Park, where he scored two centuries last summer, and Chittagong) but struggled against the seaming ball in England (36 runs from four innings). By comparison, Rutherford has not passed 42 in the 11 innings since his century on debut in Dunedin. He exudes left-handed elegance early - there are shades of Justin Langer - but temptation is getting the better of him, often outside off stump, when he gets a start.

Martin Guptill and Tom Latham are the immediate back-ups. Guptill has an average of 26.53 opening in 45 Test innings, despite dominating the position at provincial and limited-overs games. Take Zimbabwe and West Indies out of the equation and that opening average drops to 19.92. Latham is yet to make his Test debut but is seen as a contender (especially as a left-hander) if there are problems. His provincial record (average 35.95 in 30 matches) hasn't fulfilled its age-group promise but he has shown aptitude in the New Zealand environment as part of the one-day squad. Latham, as captain of the New Zealand A side, recently made two half centuries and averaged 35.40 in three "Test" matches against opposition from Sri Lanka and India.

Finally, the evidence in Bangladesh suggests this summer is time for Williamson to turn promise into consistent productivity after posting scores of 114 (three of his four Test centuries have been on the subcontinent), 74 and 62. He seems a better batsman than his average of 34.78 in 49 Test innings. That figure has even improved this year from 30.27 before the home series against England. Coupled with his nagging offspin he is a valuable asset.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on October 29, 2013, 2:25 GMT

    The Bangladesh wickets offered not a great deal to NZ bowlers, the Spin was not dangerous, sharp spinning with random bounce(Esp Days four and five), So grinding accurate concentration heavy bowling was the order of the day, which the Bangladesh team were much more accurate and better at.

  • Alex on October 29, 2013, 2:12 GMT

    The problem is clear actually. Team like bangladesh will get bundled out if you have one 150kmph bowler. They defend against fast bowler and take risk against other slow bowlers and gets out. What NZ have is similar swing bowlers who is not that good at swinging. Bracewell has good action but he lacks speed. may be lazy?. He needs to bowl at atleast 148kmph or find one who can bowl close to that or import from pakistan or australia. SA imported pakistani spinner...so its all about money..get anyone from anywhere.

  • adam on October 28, 2013, 22:22 GMT

    This NZ side has been threatening to be half decent for the last year or two (since the win in Sri Lanka), but they're not there yet. Williamson will be a good player, not as great as the hype, but a good servant. Add Vettori & Ryder into the mix (for Sodhi, Anderson) and its starting to look like a team - but who knows if they'll ever come right. I think the home season will be a good indication of where we are in the pecking order. Lets just hope that the groundsmen remember where the tap for the sprinklers are. The pitches for the England series last year where as dead as the ones in Bangladesh.

    And McCullum really is a specialist captain now. He's never been a batsman anyway... but his captaincy is worth it for the team. He creates wickets with his attacking mindset and knack for keeping pressure on the batting side. Its been a revelation really.

  • GeoffreysMother on October 28, 2013, 19:13 GMT

    I think the biggest issue of New Zealand is the lack of regular high quality long format cricket. Kane Williamson will be playing first division county cricket for Yorkshire, in a young and competitive side, and I would expect him to benefit greatly from this. Let's not forget that John Wright, Martin Crowe and Richard Hadlee all benefitted massively from this (as did the counties who employed them). Whilst Taylor and McCullum will obviously be attracted to the 20/20 leagues it would be good if Guptill (who has already done well at Derbyshire), Rutherford, Bracewell and Latham also got such opportunities. With a bit of improvement here, plus Boult and Southee, New Zealand have the core of a good side for the next decade.

  • jared on October 28, 2013, 18:13 GMT

    @ TheRisingTeam your having a laugh right, either that or you're a bit deluded, he just destroyed your team with the bat, chipped in with a few wickets like he always does, has scored centuries against the might of india in india and against south africa, he will have a better record when he retires than anyone in your team, who can only bat on the low and slow wickets in bangladesh and srilanka, your wickets only flatter your teams batting averages, i would love to see how you would cope at lords or perth and you have the cheek to call our players over rated, take your eye patch off and look at how over rated your own team is.

  • Dummy4 on October 28, 2013, 17:18 GMT

    Damn the search for the leggie. My son has a kiwi passport yet was not born there. He s a leggie and had an offer from otago when he was 17 or 18, this was long ago. He would have been the best leggie in the country one would think, you just dont have one.

  • Dummy4 on October 28, 2013, 16:47 GMT

    Where in the blue hell is Mitchell McClenaghan? and even if he wasn't selected for the tests, I'm amazed his name wasn't mentioned even in this article.

  • Dummy4 on October 28, 2013, 13:41 GMT

    Hopefully Jesse Ryder would be recalled at the earliest to provide the NZ lineup some greater quality. Taylor, Williamson, Ryder. These 3 are the best batsmen in New Zealand, and they've to play. A non-keeping Brendon McCullum in with his inconsistencies is a problem for New Zealand, but he's Hesson's man, and will stay in the side no matter what his form is. And anyways, BJ Watling has been playing very well.

  • Dummy4 on October 28, 2013, 12:55 GMT

    Williamson should be averaging at least 40, with his technique and talent. Instead, he's averaging low-30s which is not a great advertisement for his ability. He needs to become more productive against the top teams, otherwise he'll be an unfulfilled prodigy.

  • Shipu on October 28, 2013, 9:13 GMT

    Kane Williamson is overrated. His figures look even worse if you remove Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Bowling is also very bad and definitely not an all-rounder. Corey Anderson looks good though and Ish Sodhi wickets have mainly come against the tail so I don't understand where the writer is going with him. His wicket against Shakib - let's be honest the delivery wasn't great and Shakib the number 1 test all-rounder gave it away. Bangladesh have better young players like Nasir, Mominul, Gazi etc and the average age of the Bangladesh team is only 24.

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