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March 20, 2010
It must be demoralising being one of the better players in a New Zealand outfit whose depth is questionable. Not that Ross Taylor batted especially well on the second day in Wellington, where he edged to slip for 21, but he didn't have much of a base to build on. He arrived at the crease at 14 for 2 and watched his partner depart to leave the score at 31 for 3.
The feeling has become frustratingly familiar for Taylor over the past few years as the makeup of New Zealand's top order has been as unpredictable as the state of Daniel Vettori's facial hair. Openers have been whisked in and out with barely time for their form to be considered a slump. Remember Matthew Bell and Craig Cumming? Jamie How and Aaron Redmond?
The current top three of Tim McIntosh, BJ Watling and Peter Ingram looked shaky leading in to the Test and so it proved. Watling couldn't get his bat in front of a ball that pitched and straightened in the first over, McIntosh edged to slip when the ball nibbled away and Ingram was unlucky to be run out, but has suspect footwork and hadn't looked like scoring many runs until that moment.
"In the ideal world that would be great," Taylor said of the desire to come in with a healthy total already on the board. "But we lost a couple of early wickets and you've got to get out there. I'm disappointed that I got out, I would have loved to have still been out there. But hopefully in the next innings we can get a better opening stand than a wicket in the first over."
Once again it was left to Vettori, now New Zealand's No. 6, to put things right and his unbeaten 65-run partnership with Martin Guptill stopped the chaos. However, it wasn't just the top order that failed to deliver for New Zealand - the bowlers struggled for impact as well.
Chris Martin and Daryl Tuffey have horrible records against Australia and their figures didn't improve, Tim Southee rarely looked threatening and the debutant Brent Arnel was consistent but couldn't add to his two wickets from the first day. Too often the workload is dumped on Vettori, and without much assistance in the pitch for a spinner, Australia were able to cruise to 459 for 5 before declaring.
"We looked pretty tired towards the end there last night and this morning," Taylor said. "We just couldn't put any pressure on them, [if we had] any two- or three-dot strings then we'd bowl one down legside, or with Clarke and North being right- and left-handed, we weren't able to put any pressure on them and it showed with the way they both batted.
"You've got to give credit to Australia, the way Harris and Bollinger bowled at the start, not only did they pick up a few wickets but they bowled economically as well. They bowled very well on what's quite a flat deck but if you can extract a little bit of bounce and a little bit of sideways movement on any cricket wicket [you can succeed]."
By stumps on the second day, the immediate challenge for New Zealand was first to push past the follow-on target, for which they needed a further 152 runs. But the hosts were hanging their hats on the late fight from Guptill and Vettori, who must stay together for much longer to rescue the match.
"We are behind the game now," Taylor said. "The way Dan and Guptill started showing some fight towards the end there was giving us a bit of hope. Tomorrow's going to be an important first session. If we can get out there and not lose a wicket or one at the most, we're back in the game."