McCullum rues 'dumb mistakes'
Children have a certain look on their faces when they've been thoroughly scolded. It's a hangdog expression that is a mixture of embarrassment and anger. Brendon McCullum wore it when he walked into the end of day press conference.
It turned out that McCullum had a reason to look so sheepish. He and the rest of the New Zealand side had been given a stern talking to from John Wright. So much so, that McCullum didn't seem to have recovered enough to articulate it very well. "Quite rightly he [Wright] was very upset and he wasn't backward in coming forward on that, which was fair enough."
Whatever direction Wright was in, it was a better one than his batting line-up and he let them know it. "He said that we made some dumb mistakes and we continue to make dumb mistakes and that's going to put us under pressure against a good team," McCullum said. "If we're not going to learn from those mistakes then we're going to continue to have days like this. He was pretty straight up with that message."
New Zealand had themselves to blame for three of the first four wickets to fall - the last two at the top end of the eventual collapse. While Rob Nicol was the victim of a fairly good ball that lifted on him, Martin Guptill hung his bat out to a delivery he should have left, Brendon McCullum took the bait and pulled one straight to the square leg fielder who had been placed there just for him. And Ross Taylor played at a ball he could have left.
McCullum and Taylor's dismissals' were particularly disappointing because they had steered New Zealand to a position which made South Africa's decision to bowl first seem questionable. "We made two very dumb errors from our two senior batsmen and that put the rest of our line-up under pressure," McCullum said. "If you give South Africa a sniff then they go up a gear and that's what they did. It was pretty frustrating."
Even for an attack that is considered the among world's best, five wickets without conceding a run is a dreamlike effort and McCullum admitted it was a nighmare for New Zealand to witness. He avoided the real-time show but could not escape its consequences. "I saw the first couple [of wickets] after I got out and tried to take a shower to hope that things would work out okay," McCullum said. "We frittered away a great opportunity to make big runs against a very good team and I'm devastated by that. You can't walk away from that, you have to own up and make sure you do it better next time."
Accountability is something that McCullum understands. He has scored four half-centuries in the tour against South Africa so far but has failed to converted even one into a three-figure score. "Fifties and sixties aren't going to get the required runs for us so I have to be able to turn those starts into big scores," he said. "It's frustrating but I have to make sure I stand tall and continue to try to lead the batting line-up."
Part of that leadership is balancing aggression with defense, something New Zealand's batsmen are struggling to do on fairly tame surfaces. Although the Hamilton strip was tinged with green, it was by no means a pitch worthy of a score of under 200 in the first innings. "For a new batter it is testing but if you get the pace of it and get yourself in you can occupy the crease without too many demons," McCullum said.
That bodes for a tough day ahead for New Zealand as South Africa will look to make the most of the best batting conditions on the second and third days. Chris Martin picked up two wickets but there is still a massive amount of toil ahead. "We're still incredibly disappointed with our day but to take two wickets at the end, albeit a night watchman, gives us a little bit more leeway into their middle order," McCullum said. "Tomorrow morning is going to be huge, we've got to try and attack early on and knock over a couple of early, and if we can't do that then hold the run rate then if we can get a breakthrough go hard again to try and take wickets in clumps."
Edited by Tariq Engineer
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent