New Zealand still looking to 'kick on' after starts
New Zealand look at the final day of the third Test against South Africa as an opportunity. An opportunity to bat better than they have in the rest of the series. An opportunity to give their injured captain Ross Taylor something to feel good about. One to end the summer with pride.
Realists will say that already South Africa have enough runs and a good enough attack to bowl New Zealand out. Not one of New Zealand's batsmen has scored a century in the series, and every time one of them has looked close to it, they gave it away with a rash shot. South Africa's attack has peppered them with short balls on a pitch that has flattened in Wellington and they have had trouble negotiating them. Even without Jacques Kallis, the frontline spinner Imran Tahir, or the presence of their bowling coach Allan Donald, South Africa are relentless and give very little away.
For New Zealand to overcome, it will take a massive effort and their first motivation will be to do it despite Taylor's absence. "When your captain gets injured and has to come off [the field], it's devastating for the team and things change with that," Trent Woodhill, New Zealand's assistant coach, said. "The team wants to make sure they can look after their captain by putting in a performance tomorrow and make sure that we back Ross up."
Although New Zealand have been over-reliant on Taylor at times, Woodhill believes the signs are there that the rest of the batting has been building towards a big one. "Six of the top seven all made sufficient starts to make sure at least two players went on and got 80 plus and one of them went on to 100 plus. But we didn't do that," Woodhill said. "It's easy to talk up a good bowling attack but the bottom line is guys got in and guys had form and they didn't carry on, and that's frustrating."
Individual batting contributions have evaded New Zealand through the series but they seem to have ironed out two of the possible problems in this match. They swapped Rob Nicol for Daniel Flynn at the top of the order and revised their initial strategy of using only five specialist batsmen. The results have shown promise and although they still need a lot of working on, Woodhill said that is part of the development process the side is going through.
The wider concerns will be addressed after the series, but the immediate focus will be on getting it right for Tuesday. "It's a learning thing. We talk through what happened with the dismissals and where the wickets fell in clumps, and make sure we recognise those signs so that it doesn't happen again," he said. "But we have to make sure that when two blokes get in tomorrow, they make a big one and not let a big one go."
It may seem harsh to highlight Flynn on Test return but he was one of the batsmen guilty of exactly what Woodhill outlined. Flynn worked hard for his 45 and saw off a frantic few opening overs early on, only to depart in quiet fashion, edging behind to Boucher. His efforts still gave a decent account of his ability and he would like do it even more justice in the second innings. "I wouldn't say I was satisfied," Flynn said. "I think the way I started last night, I was happy, but it would have been nicer to kick on this morning and make a bigger total along with Guppy [Martin Guptill]. Tomorrow, getting through the new ball is going to be crucial but there could be an opportunity there."
New Zealand's approach to the second innings will depend on when South Africa declare and whether the hosts view the target as gettable in the number of overs left. "Well, have to wait and see how they [South Africa] go in the morning but we have to go out there and play some positive cricket, and hopefully guys can kick on and someone can make a big hundred," Flynn said. "Guys will go out and play their natural games."
So far in the series, New Zealand's natural game has been to attack rather than defend, so they may feel more comfortable chasing rather than hanging on for a draw. With conditions expected to remain good for batting, Flynn did not rule out achieving even a target of 300 while Vernon Philander, South Africa's new-ball sensation, said his side would feel comfortable with "350 plus" to defend.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent