New Zealand look to Hobart for inspiration
Some sports teams draw inspiration from what their predecessors did years before them. New Zealand need only delve three months into the archives to be reminded of what they can achieve.
After being smacked sideways by Australia in Brisbane, losing by nine wickets in the first Test last December, they returned in Hobart to record a historic win. The victory was talked about as a turning point for New Zealand and whose results would resonate far into the future. The Hobart comeback will be a talking point as they head into Wellington for the final Test of the summer, although Ross Taylor said they are not necessarily banking on lightening striking twice.
"We have touched on it a little bit; we haven't touched on it a lot. But we were in a similar situation [in Hobart]," he said. "The score reflected that we got pretty much thrashed in Brisbane but it was actually a lot closer than people give it credit for and I think the same thing about Hamilton. We did have our moments in that game and if a couple of bounces of the ball went our way then it could have been a different story. We came back hard at the Hobart Test and we plan to do the same again tomorrow."
New Zealand have not had the opportunity to test that theory properly yet. Their first assignment after Hobart was a relatively simple one against Zimbabwe and since then they have played just two more Tests. The latest one, in Hamilton, is coloured with shades of the Gabba defeat. Although New Zealand were able to set South Africa a more challenging 101 to win (the target they set Australia in Brisbane was a mere 19), they still lost heavily.
After Hobart, their confidence in their ability to win games with five specialist batsmen and four seamers grew. But, in the space of two matches, South Africa have made them rethink. New Zealand will include an extra batsman in the XI at the Basin Reserve and opt for three seamers, which may be seen as going backwards but Taylor is optimistic about the change. "The balance of our side might be a little bit different in this game. I'm sure that it will be good to have a different balance to our side and a different energy with a couple of new guys coming in," he said.
New Zealand's main concern is putting runs on the board against a relentless South African attack. Taylor said the team management is urging them to keep it simple. "The message to the batsmen is that 'we have got confidence in you. Play your natural game'."
None of New Zealand's batsmen have got into three figures, with Kane Williamson their top-scorer across the two matches with 77. Both Taylor and Brendon McCullum have shown the capability to get a few more, but periods of stoic resistance and sublime shot-play are spoilt by making rash mistakes. "Mental barriers sometimes get you out," Taylor said. "Hundreds are what get you into good positions, 60s and 70s are good for a certain period of time but it's about getting hundreds and big hundreds. First of all, you have to get yourself in. Brendon and myself have got ourselves in but we haven't been able to capitalise."
The biggest obstacle to New Zealand scoring runs has been Vernon Philander who has looked threatening every time he has touched the ball. With his ability to swing, reverse-swing and get seam movement, Philander has offered no let-up but Taylor said New Zealand are determined not to let him break through this time. "It's just trying to deny him as much as possible. We have denied them [the other bowlers] to a certain extent but Philander has got on top of us. We have to deny him and if we do that, I'm sure we will put a bit more pressure on South Africa," he said.
Philander's nagging consistency has troubled New Zealand but Taylor seems to have figures out a plan to negate his effectiveness. "He puts the ball in the right places for long enough. I don't think reverse swing will come into it as much as it did in Hamilton," Taylor said. 'We have to play him on his merits and when we have played him attackingly we have come out on top, so maybe that's the way we go about it."
Taylor said that if New Zealand win in Wellington, it will not be as defining as the Hobart victory especially because they have backtracked on their four-seamer philosophy. But, it will still be an important achievement and a sign of what is to come for New Zealand. "It will be very big in the context of this series in itself," Taylor said.
Edited by Kanishkaa Balachandran
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent