Support not forthcoming for Taylor
On Thursday, Jeetan Patel was optimistic about New Zealand's batting ability at the post-day's press conference. "We've still got Brendon and Rosco, who is going really strong at the moment, so we have some batsmen up our sleeve to get to 250 at least. We're looking to bat as long as we can and from there set up the game."
New Zealand's only realistic hope of saving this match lay in a big sixth-wicket partnership between Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum, and the message it would have sent to the team. Instead, both batsmen fell inside the first 40 minutes of play and New Zealand went kaput. New Zealand made 234, losing their last five wickets for 51 runs.
Taylor had played very well on day two, batting until the close. He only added 11 to his score today in 37 deliveries but subtract his effort and that scorecard would look a lot worse. Since landing in Sri Lanka, Taylor has had to carry the line-up along with his captain. He stood out in the warm-ups with 93, 75 and 58. In the first Test his 35 and 16 carried weight. Taylor has stood out in a middling team and it would not be a surprise if he spent a lot of time looking into his hotel mirror asking for some help from his fellow batsmen.
"I found it okay, but it's always at the back of your mind that one ball has your number on it," Taylor said quietly. "You hope to try and delay it as long as possible. We needed to see through the first hour and keep wickets in hand but we lost wickets in clumps. Brendon and I went early and then Daniel [Vettori] and Jake [Jacob Oram] got out quickly. We can't afford to lose wickets against a quality attack. We have to buy time."
The motivational mantra will need to be backed up by sturdiness in the middle. A means of scoring against Muttiah Muralitharan and Rangana Herath must be unearthed along with tactics to see out sessions. Taylor will undoubtedly find himself with his hands full and New Zealand will be desperate for runs from the top order, Jesse Ryder and McCullum. None of New Zealand's main batsmen had ever played in the subcontinent and it has been all too apparent.
Despite the time spent working with former Pakistan offspinner Saqlain Mushtaq before the series, New Zealand's batsmen have shown a reluctance to use their feet to spin. Past teams to have done well in Sri Lanka have found the balance between batting aggressively and eating up overs. In New Zealand's case, they've been too timid. Taylor put it down to inexperience and the failure to perform a decent job.
New Zealand will, at some stage tomorrow, be set a massive target to chase or a significant amount of time to bat out. Many times, touring sides here have had to decide between the mindset required to save a Test and win one. Taylor has his route picked out: "The way we have to approach this is to rotate the strike. If we go out and try and dead-bat every ball then its going to get us out. "
Where New Zealand's spinners have clutched at straws on this SSC pitch, Murali and Herath have started to produce results. "It was a bit dry this morning, the ball turned a bit more and did a bit more than yesterday or last night," was Taylor's assessment. "Saying that, the way they came out and batted has given us hope. Their spinners are outstanding and we have to come up with a way of staying out there."
Taylor and Co can do well to take a cue from a few of the Sri Lankan batsmen they've had the opportunity to watch while baking under the sun. "I've picked up stuff from the way they've batted. You have to learn from other players and they [Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera] are good exponents of knowing how to play long periods of time in their own conditions," Taylor said. "I came over here very inexperienced in the subcontinent but I've learned things I have to store away for when we come over next."
He may feel more knowledgeable now, but Taylor may still learn a lot more about himself over the remainder of this Test.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo