'Bemused' Moles counts the damage
For New Zealand, day four at the SSC was a case of no steps forward but six giant ones back - their batsmen again crumbled under pressure, repeating a series of mistakes that have dogged them all tour. Having lost five wickets for 51 runs in their first innings, New Zealand slipped to 182 for 6 in the face of an insurmountable target. It was a performance that left Andy Moles, the coach, shaking his head in disbelief.
Moles termed as a "crime" the inability of the batsmen to learn from their repeated mistakes. "It has been a disappointing day. In all honesty we have failed today," Moles said tersely. "The disappointing aspect of it all is that we've lost six wickets today and all have got themselves out. We did the hard work. We got in. We got out. It is a crime. The guys are learning all the time we've been here but you have to learn quicker to become better. We need to be smarter in the way we assess the way we're playing."
Ross Taylor spoke of about being positive and it appeared on occasion that New Zealand's batsmen tried too hard not to get bogged down, only to overstep the line of being too positive. Martin Guptill batted himself to 28 from just 31 balls before poking at Rangana Herath's first delivery, without much footwork. Daniel Flynn used his feet appreciably early on to get to the reach of the ball and smother the turn, but went back to one to try and work a single. Jesse Ryder, until he was out trying to sweep Herath across the flight, batted with assured footwork. Brendon McCullum was dropped in the deep when he slogged his third delivery, only to crash a wild drive back onto his stumps.
"On any wicket there's a band of sensible batting, whether it be between 3.2 and 2.8, and it moves up and down, good wicket or bad," was Moles' calculation. "I'm not saying this is a bad wicket but it is helpful for their spin bowlers and when you're playing out there the run rate comes down, but we're trotting along at 3.6 and we're five down. It bemuses me that they're making the same mistakes over and again."
New Zealand, in their back-room talks, have set goals. Each batsman has been instructed on the need to bat 20 deliveries, after which they can get a measure of the surface and bowlers. Moles said his players had "front row seats to the cinema" in terms of the technology available to them but was puzzled at how, despite viewing videos at night for over a month on laptops that do the rounds of their rooms, they were not soaking up information. Apart from McCullum, who faced 19 deliveries, all the others faced more than 20 but failed to really go on.
"If you do that you're getting used to the wicket and then you can compute the information … is the ball turning, et cetera et cetera," Moles said. "You have to be able to push on today but unfortunately, all of our players went in and got out. On a wicket like this the hardest part is to get in, so it is very disappointing."
Clearly, planning is not enough. It's not that New Zealand have played spin poorly, it's just that when they make the wrong decision under pressure the walls cave in. Having watched the likes of Mahela Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera and Kumar Sangakkara bat long periods of time without risk, New Zealand failed to reciprocate. Jayawardene, who has been a particular nuisance, felt New Zealand's inexperienced line-up was always going to find it difficult against Sri Lanka's spinners. "They make it tough for any batsmen to try and get into rhythm, but it's all about shot selection and trying to grind it out. We've done a good job in applying pressure and not giving them opportunities. "
The way the pitch is turning offered Moles a ray of light in that the batsmen would have soaked up a lot of experience. Today he addressed the players after stumps and told them there was no harm in losing as long as they learned from the defeat. Moles cannot address the issue any more in this Test but in his new role as selector, it will be on his agenda to discuss the side's lamentable woes ahead of New Zealand's home series against Pakistan later this year.
If New Zealand are serious about moving up the rankings - they sit at No. 7 - and competing with the best, then a little more old-fashioned toil would probably not go amiss.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo