New Zealand v South Africa 2011-12 March 27, 2012

Six lessons for New Zealand

Six lessons New Zealand learnt during the Test series against South Africa

Williamson is the business
Kane Williamson's century to help New Zealand draw the third Test is perhaps the gutsiest, most inspirational knock by a New Zealander in years. Striding to the wicket at 1 for 2 to make your second Test ton and save a match is a tremendous achievement for anyone, let alone a 21-year-old in his 12th Test against arguably the most lethal four-prong pace attack in a generation. With Williamson-esque application New Zealand Test cricket will survive. Yes, it 'only' earned a draw but it was the embodiment of grit as he let the blood-coloured face of his bat do the talking. Dunny-door forward defence was mixed with calculated leaves that showed he had a GPS-like knowledge of his off stump's location. Williamson becomes just the seventh New Zealander to score a second-innings century in the past decade and just the second to do so against South Africa (John Reid did it in 1961-62).

Earning the right to win with the bat
Williamson's effort was one thing but South Africa treated New Zealand to a lesson in application across the series. They adapted better to batting time rather than demonstrating flair. Of the 56 innings played by New Zealanders in the first two Tests, 20 (36%) finished with scores between 20 and 50. The visitors had 18 of 46 scores (39%) fall in the 20-50 bracket. The difference is at least one or more South Africans generally continued to a substantial score. The South Africans made five centuries and seven half-centuries; New Zealand could only produce one century and four half-centuries.

It is possible to sympathise with New Zealand's batting woes against the pace juggernaut. The batsmen failed to ignite beyond Williamson's back-to-the-wall 77 in Hamilton and 102 not out in Wellington, backed by Brendon McCullum half-centuries in the first two Tests (58 and 61) and Martin Guptill's 59 in the third. The first innings at the Basin Reserve was the worst example; each of the top six got a start but no-one could progress beyond 59. The second innings was further evidence a crumble is always lurking. South Africa eased to 189 for 3 declared; New Zealand slumped to 83 for 5 within 36 overs before the reprieve.

Encouraging signs of bowling depth
The efforts of the New Zealanders must be seen as meritorious against a side which has ambitions to be the best in the world by mid-year. In the first two Tests they had South Africa dismissed for 238 and 253 in the first innings before the visitors piled on 474 runs to start at the Basin Reserve. Fans learnt Mark Gillespie has still got what it takes at Test level with five- and six-wicket bags, combined with the guile of Chris Martin and the tenacity of Doug Bracewell (even if he struggled in the last two Tests). Trent Boult could consider himself unlucky to get the chop after one relatively redundant Test in Dunedin but, with Neil Wagner eligible for the West Indies tour and the likes of Tim Southee and Mitchell McClenaghan in the wings, there is competition.

Test specialists are the way to go
Provided New Zealand Cricket can rubberstamp the flight budget there might be value employing more Test specialists and keeping players refreshed by cutting down workloads. Martin and Gillespie have been good examples in the home Tests while arguments can be made for Bracewell, Southee, Boult, BJ Watling, Kruger van Wyk, Dean Brownlie and Daniel Flynn to stick with Tests. Many players will otherwise experience non-stop touring until next February after the South African series. April-May's IPL is followed by tours to the West Indies, India, Sri Lanka and South Africa before New Zealand returns home to play England.

Australia and South Africa have split their squads over the past few years. Just two of Australia's 14-strong T20 squad against India (Shaun Marsh and David Warner) were Test incumbents. Likewise South Africa have five players in their Test team (Mark Boucher, Alviro Peterson, Vernon Philander, Jacques Rudolph and Imran Tahir) who were not picked for any other format this tour. However, rhetoric about wanting a stronger Test team may be impossible to action if four-day domestic cricket merely bookends the season with a 76-day gap in between.

Vettori deserves a chance for redemption
Contrary to some schools of thought, New Zealand can far from afford to drop Daniel Vettori. Vettori equalled Stephen Fleming's record for Tests (111) in the final match - anyone with that record over 15 years would need significant justification for dismissal when the team struggles against top opposition. Vettori's batting form as a makeshift No 6 was mediocre with 97 runs at 19.40 (career average 30.31) but his wicket-taking is of more concern with three wickets at 95.00 over the series (career average 34.16), albeit going at just 2.44 an over. However, Vettori deserves a chance at redemption after a rare blip in an otherwise exemplary career.

Tarun Nethula shapes as the next best spinner. He should be taken away as back-up this winter. The Central Districts legspinner debuted nervously in the one-day international against Zimbabwe in Whangarei but rebounded in Napier. Had it not been for poor fielding he would have done better than 2 for 60 against South Africa, also in Napier. His domestic record this season (20 wickets at 35.25) is effective heading into the last round of the Plunket Shield. He faces competition from Auckland's Bruce Martin (33 wickets at 35.54), Canterbury's Todd Astle (29 wickets at 34.44) and Wellington's Jeetan Patel (23 wickets at 33.13).

van Wyk a Test-quality player
After getting a late call-up to his Test debut in Dunedin for the injured Watling, van Wyk looked at home in the Test arena, taking eight catches and conceding just nine byes in 484 overs of cricket. His skills on both sides of the wicket have been welcome, as has his general vim in the field. Gutsy batting - 123 runs at 24.60 including a 100-minute, 39-run vigil which helped New Zealand draw the final Test in Wellington - has placed further pressure on Watling to regain his spot when he returns from his hip injury.

Edited by Brydon Coverdale

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ryan on March 29, 2012, 8:36 GMT

    @beejaytee: I agree with you that van Wyk adds experience to this outfit and on further reflection he is probably the way to go. As for Flynn; he did look the good in the first dig. If he wants to open then he might as well be given the opportunity. There doesn't seem to be any one else putting their hand up. Maybe he can be our version of Ashwell Prince - a guy who started out in tests in the middle order but was dropped and the only way he could get back in was to open. That worked well for South Africa and Prince for a few years until he went back to 6.

  • Beau on March 29, 2012, 0:16 GMT

    @FatBoysCanBat - I always read your comments with interest, you make a lot of sense. But you gotta let go of this Keeper/Top Order Batsman thing. Recent history has shown that either the body (Baz) or the mind (Sanga) just can't stand up to the job in the 5 day game. Flynn apparently wants to open, did well in his first dig, copped a snorter which could have accounted for Kallis or Ponting or SRT in the second, and generally looked the goods. Also, shoe-horning a lefty into the top order is another work of John Wright genius. I think BJ should understudy Kruger for now. Tough on BJ, but Kruger looks the better keeper, and brings a lot of experience to a young side.

  • Ryan on March 28, 2012, 6:51 GMT

    @Bruce Robinson: I agree with you. McCullum should not have used Gillespie or Bracewell when de Villiers and Duminy were swinging from the hip. He should have bowled part-timers like Guptill, Brownlie and Williamson. @Shongololo: I was convinced he was out until the final camera angle [looking from square-leg to Petersen at point] showed Petersen's hands separate briefly and then he dragged the ball across the turf with his right hand to meet his left hand. The third umpire made the correct decision because as we all know if the ball touches the ground it can not be a catch.

  • Ryan on March 28, 2012, 6:37 GMT

    This is a pretty good read. We can't read too much into the Vettori thing. He has been notoriously poor against South Africa during his whole career and in five Test series against them he averages 73 and is yet to average below 50 in a single series - his series returns are: 7/353 in 1999, 4/454 in 2004, 4/233 in 2006, 3/214 in 2007, and 2/207 in expect him to bounce back in the West Indies - who [judging by the amount of wickets guys like Ryan Austin, Nikita Miller, Odean Brown and Shane Shillingford get in their fist-class comp] are not great players of spin bowling and Vettori averages 25 against them over his career. The van Wyk-Watling thing is pretty interesting. It appears Watling is the incumbent [I would pick him and have him open so Flynn can bat at 5 or 6 maybe van Wyk could open though. He's done it before] but van Wyk barely put a foot wrong vs the Saffers and might have usurped him.

  • Paul on March 28, 2012, 5:58 GMT

    Without wishing to detract from Williamson's fine effort (I've long maintained he is one of the few NZ batsmen with a technique to succeed at test level) in the face of such adversity, it should be noted that he was out, caught Petersen, bowled Steyn, when he was in the teens (or even earlier, can't exactly remember). How the third umpire arrived at his decision only he will know.

  • Dummy4 on March 28, 2012, 4:34 GMT

    There is no doubt that Kane Williamson was the birght shining star for NZ in this series. Mark Gillespie with the ball was a big performer and, considering he had chosen to bwol with an injury throughout the series, I thought it was pointless (even mean) of McCullum to throw him the ball on the 5th day of Test 3 when de Villiers and Duminy were in full swing. A wicket then would have done nothing to the outcome. I think he deserved to finish the match without being blasted around the park after his big first innings effort.

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