Sri Lanka v New Zealand, 2nd Test, SSC, 5th day August 30, 2009

Naive NZ struggle to find the plot

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

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.

Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Simon on September 2, 2009, 8:45 GMT

    Another poor test series from NZ, but when you consider the damage done to the lineup by the divisive Bracewell years it really isn't surprising. Losing basically an entire first choice test side in the space of a few years because of the incompetence and ego of the coach would be hard to recover from for any country, especially one with such a small player base. Guptill is nowhere near good enough and should be replaced by Redmond, and a team with both O'Brien and Martin is too samey. Interestingly, John Bracewell is now coaching Gloucestershire in Division 2 of the County Championship, and presided over an absolute thumping by bottom team Middlesex, who were missing an injured opening batsman and an injured spin bowler in the 2nd innings. Equally interesting, the only Gloucester player to bat well was James Franklin - WHY is he not with the side in Sri Lanka??

  • tushar on August 31, 2009, 8:13 GMT

    I personally believe New Zealand need to structure their batting order better. I reckon bring Jesse ryder into the opening slot with Macintosh and let him play his natural game which is attacking. By attacking the new ball the pressure gets taken of mcintosh who doesnt have to feel bogged down as the score is constantly ticking over. Bring Guptill to no.3 and Flynn to 4. Teams like India,Sri lanka and even Australia have 1 or both openers that are fairly aggressive. Yes it may not work at times.. But the state the test side is in at the moment some chances have to be taken. Also bringing Bond back will also increase the sides bowling attack which has no real spearhead only work horses. I dont rate Obrien he has far too many off days with the ball and think that Tuffey would do a better job or even mills.

  • Andrew on August 31, 2009, 7:08 GMT

    New Zealand are offering brilliant competition to Bangladesh and West Indies for the bottom spot in the Test rankings.

  • viswanath on August 31, 2009, 5:36 GMT

    New Zealand is the worst among top 8 teams in test cricket..... They have the players and potential but not using it properly....They should have dropped jeetan patel and should have included tuffey in the main XI... Mccullum was a flop during this series... Taylor was good but not upto his standards. ryder and guptil got only starts... I wonder why oram was'nt given the ball to bowl... He just bowled only few overs..

  • bronson on August 31, 2009, 4:47 GMT

    Its just annoying that only 1-2, Maybe 3 players max, perform well each batting innings. We just cant seem to bat long periods. Which is probably why we are a better odi team. Its not like we dont have the players to post good scores. Its just they cant for some reason??????. Very frustrating.

    And we lack a genuine wicket taker besides Vettori. Most teams world wide have 2-4 bowlers that can get that wicket or two. We dont even have any really. Just look at our last couple performances. Weve had to rely on the opposition to declare. If we do bowl a team out, They've usually posted 400+ by then.

    I really hope Southee becomes a lethal wicket taker in the upcoming years, If not, months. He's our best bowling talent since Bond. He just needs a bit more variety and never know.

  • Mike on August 31, 2009, 3:05 GMT

    Well I reckon they should have bought Bond in... Simple as that... Martin, O'Brien were a joke most of the time... (O'Brien in particular)

  • john on August 31, 2009, 2:48 GMT

    McCullum is not a test no. 6. Come on Dan - get serious!

  • Rene on August 31, 2009, 2:35 GMT

    The bowler's lacked penetration against top class batsmen (Vettori included) and the top order failed to set any kind of platform (no opening partnerships near 50 is sad). However, the most disappinting aspect of the tour was the performance of New Zealand's so called 'leadership group'. Aside from his last innings 50 (which ended so, so badly) Oram did nothing with the bat at all during the tour, he has now been relegated to no. 7 as well, surely ending his claims to become one of our top order specialist batsmen if he ceases to be an all-rounder. McCullum was even worse, averaging 15 and providing no innings of note at all and he is the vice-captain! I agree with geebob that the current crop of batsmen like McIntosh, Guptill, Flynn and Ryder need to be given a chance. The real emphasis for our poor performances should be placed on the senior guys like Oram and McCullum to front up and deliver consistently when it really counts. The question is how many more chances should they get?

  • Jarrod on August 31, 2009, 1:32 GMT

    The gulf between NZ competence in ODIs and Tests becomes greater every day.

    Guptil cannot focus for long enough to become a classy test batsman. What New Zealand desperately needs is a Langer type to cement themselves to an end, rotate the strike, and gradually chip away at a target. Flynn shows inklings of possessing that batting skill, but he loses focus the moment he is set.

    The current batch of NZ players are too shot-friendly, and didn't pay respect to the pitches of Sri Lanka.

  • Gautham on August 30, 2009, 17:51 GMT

    I wonder how long do we have listen to this "inexperienced guys" excuse. Every time this inexperience is blamed but where's the experience coming from if they keep chopping off players after one or two series???

    Except for Vettori, Oram, Taylor, Ryder, McCullum, everybody else is dumped or injured every alternate series. Top order even more so!

    My only hope is that the team now persists with the current crop. McIntosh and Flynn have shown some semblance of patience while I seriously hope Guptill learns fast from the likes of Dilshan and Sehwag.

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