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As the team looks back at a one-sided series, there is more to ponder than just a spirit-sapping defeat. In the last five years New Zealand won just 12 Test wins from 40
August 30, 2009
There is no sugar-coating the pill when a team gets beaten 2-0 and yes, New Zealand made a meal of this tour. Daniel Vettori's goal of keeping Sri Lanka to 0-0 didn't quite go to plan and he was left to almost single-handedly carry a flagging team. Vettori was New Zealand's highest wicket-taker and run-scorer in two Tests. The 2-0 defeat highlights the gulf between the two teams.
What will rankle, and this was a massive factor in the final scoreline, was an inability to learn from repeated mistakes. New Zealand's mantra in the build-up to this Test was "gameplan, gameplan", but irrespective of the guts shown by Vettori, Jacob Oram and Iain O'Brien today, the team's naivety was their defining characteristic all series.
It was ironic that after watching videos of Mark Richardson and Stephen Fleming stonewalling in 2003, New Zealand erred in being too attacking. "It is the hardest bit," said Vettori. "You cross the initial tough period, cross 20-30 balls and get a feel for the surface. We just struggled with that tempo. We were too aggressive and that's been our downfall."
Andy Moles, the coach, spoke on day four about how utterly frustrating it was for the batsmen to waver from a plan. Despite watching the Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera hand out free of charge "masterclasses in batting" as Vettori termed them, the message didn't seem to get through to New Zealand. Vettori called his batsmen a talented group of players lacking application. "We've been guilty of trying to force the game too much and getting ourselves in trouble from there. There is no doubt this is a good group of batsmen and I have high hopes of them. We need results."
As the team looks back at a one-sided series, there is more to ponder than just a spirit-sapping defeat. In the last five years New Zealand won just 12 Test wins from 40, five against Bangladesh and two over Zimbabwe. For much of those five years fans of New Zealand cricket have looked on as their team stumbled from series to series, home and away, competing but never quite dominating apart from the minnows. Injuries and retirements didn't help but neither have the replacements always been adequate.
This series has been indicative of that malaise. Tim McIntosh, after a dour first-innings dig in Galle, hardly spent time at the crease. Daniel Flynn was a phantom until his 50 in the final innings, which he undid through loss of concentration. Martin Guptill's lack of footwork was exposed, as was his temperament. That ridiculous pull shot when the trap was set on day two at the SSC was indicative of the problem.
As Vettori also pointed out, many of these players faced unorthodox and highly skilled bowlers they would not have encountered back home. So for them to face that kind of bowling and be successful, in bursts, was a huge learning curve for the future. Still, it was disappointing to see how uneasily the batsmen tackled Rangana Herath given how often they face Vettori in the nets. "The good thing about Herath is he put the ball in the good spots consistently and there was hardly a bad ball bowled," said Vettori. "He kept asking questions and unfortunately we didn't have answers at crucial times. Credit to the bowler; he didn't give us any respite. Herath has played a big part in Sri Lanka winning."
And hopefully for New Zealand he will have played a big part in their growth. Ross Taylor has spoken of the knowledge gathered during his stay, having to face top-class spin: "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." Jeetan Patel has kept his belief across a disastrous first Test and a face-saving second, speaking of the importance of balancing attack versus restraint while watching Herath. No doubt this has been a learning experience for others.
With Pakistan due to visit later this year, the hope is this bunch has absorbed the pressure and hardship of this tour. "The big thing is consistency," said Vettori. "We don't have people knocking down the door. You take note of performances in the A games. There are two before the Pakistan series but I would like to back these guys."
Vettori's view, which will carry plenty of weight when he sits with the other selectors to pick the squad to face Pakistan, should rekindle self-belief. For New Zealand's sake, the hope has to be that continued exposure will buttress the requirements of how to perform under pressure. But that can only happen when runs are on the board, especially from the top order.
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