Wright expects more from young middle order
For a team that is regarded as shrewd and crafty, it seems unusual that New Zealand would construct their strategies on nothing more than basics. But, with one foot in the midst of a transition of sorts, it's the fundamentals of the game that New Zealand are focusing on - specifically the very building blocks of batting.
Their ODI against Zimbabwe in Dunedin began with two batsmen back in the changeroom with only four runs on the board. Injured captain Ross Taylor said that points to the first thing they want to work on. "Two new balls are something we need to get used to and we lost two early wickets," Taylor said. "But we still posted a good total of around 250 on what looked like a greenish wicket with a lot of bounce."
New Zealand's eventual score could have been much more, as they reached the 43rd over with four wickets in hand. Instead of pushing on, they splintered at the end and lost four wickets for 25 runs. The lower-order acceleration is the other aspect of their batting New Zealand want to improve.
"We want to get to 46 overs with four wickets in hand and then go from there. We had a lot of starts but we want players to go on," John Wright, New Zealand's coach said. "Where we get hurt in one-day cricket particularly is if we don't bat deep and if we don't use up our overs." New Zealand were bowled out nine balls short of a complete innings in the first match.
A relatively inexperienced middle order may be the cause. Dean Brownlie, Kane Williamson and Tom Latham, who played in place of Taylor, make up the current No. 4 to 6 in the line-up and Wright hopes that time in the middle will allow the trio to consolidate their domestic showings and create depth in New Zealand's squad.
"We've had some players perform really well in the one-day domestic competitions, without being rewarded with selection and the opportunity, previously," he said. "Hopefully we're gathering a little bit more competition within our team and that's always healthy."
New Zealand are being careful not to rate their wins against Zimbabwe, who are playing their first tour away from home since making their Test comeback last August, too highly. Instead they want to use the matches as an opportunity to experiment ahead of more challenging contests, such as the imminent one against South Africa. "We need to play well against Zimbabwe," Wright said. "We value our wins very highly. Then, if we can get some form going, we've got to try and knock off South Africa."
By the time South Africa reach New Zealand, Taylor hopes the new-look ODI squad will have taken on a more settled look, particularly in the batting department. "When you come in with a lot of youngsters, they are trying to find their way," he said. "On the whole it [the ODI in Dunedin] was a pass mark but we'll want to play a lot better."
Taylor was ruled out of the series after sustaining a calf injury in the one-off Test. He was forced to retire hurt on 122 in New Zealand's only innings and was on crutches in the immediate aftermath. He is now walking unassisted and said the "physio and trainer are happy with the progress I have made so far."
The New Zealand captain is on track to take the field for the series against South Africa and will travel with the team, bar the ODI in Napier, to keep an eye on proceedings. "It's always frustrating when you get an injury but it's a nice opportunity for someone else," Taylor said.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent