South Africa v New Zealand, 1st Test, Cape Town, 1st day January 2, 2013

New Zealand clueless against high-quality pace

New Zealand's implosion inside 20 overs was an illustration of the gulf between the No. 1 ranked side in the world and the No. 8 ranked one

New Zealand were expected to be overwhelmed. They were expected to struggle. They were expected to get taught a thing or two. But they were not expected to be this bad.

They were not expected to stand at the crease with their legs only as good as painted on. They were not expected to hang their bats out to dry. They were not expected to field as though their souls had left their bodies and as though there were no soles at the bottom of their feet either.

They know that their performance on day one was far below expectation and that there are no excuses that can explain it away. "We weren't anywhere near where we need to be with the bat," a straight-faced Brendon McCullum admitted.

"It's sombre. There are some really hurt boys in our change-room. We had such high hopes coming into this game. To have put on the performance we did today, everyone is hurting immensely. It's not a good day for anyone involved in our team at the moment.

"You certainly don't question anyone's performance but none of us wanted it enough today. We've got to turn up tomorrow and try and get the job done with the ball. We're still capable of performing at this level but we are going to have to improve our performance on today."

Admission, acceptance and anger. McCullum even skipped denial as he went through all the stages of grief in a single day. At the heart of the matter: that New Zealand were just not good enough. It was not under-preparation that affected them even though the tour-match in Paarl was played on a completely different surface nor was it being mentally spooked.

New Zealand's implosion inside 20 overs was an illustration of the gulf between the No. 1 ranked side in the world and the No. 8 ranked one. Scarily, that division is wider than should be acceptable or comfortable. They are in two different leagues.

As poor as New Zealand's footwork and shot selection was, South Africa's attack and one of them in particular, Vernon Philander, was relentless, piercing and hostile. Back on his home turf after a leaner patch away than he wants to admit, Philander was charged up after having recovered from injury in time to play and having the chance to restore the reputation he built here. He went back to the same basics that worked for him before. Consistent length, nagging line outside the offstump and the ability to make the ball move just enough to cause indecision in the batsman's minds.

In five overs, Philander had five wickets and from there New Zealand could not recover. "The spell we saw from Philander was as good a spell as you're ever likely to see in Test cricket," McCullum said. "He never missed his length and asked questions defensively. In terms of defending his stumps, he also managed to get the odd ball to kiss away. It was a real class spell and then [Morne] Morkel and [Dale] Steyn chipped in with their hostility."

Steyn, who was after a milestone, and Morkel were left with only scraps. Instead of treating them with disrespect, they fought over them with the hunger of starving men tussling over the last piece of bread. They underlined South Africa's relentlessness, which Jacques Kallis said now functions at its peak. They made a pitch that only had a little bit of juice in it in the morning look like it was flooding with moisture simply because they had the right skills to exploit the movement when it was there and keep the pressure on when it was not. "The wicket didn't warrant the score," Kallis said. It was South Africa's bowling, not the strip, that made the 45 all out.

Some of South Africa's motivation going in to this series was to justify their No.1 ranking. The only way they can do that against an opposition as out of their depth as New Zealand is to not allow them anything. In short, South Africa feel they have to demoralise New Zealand as mercilessly as they did today.

Theirs was a showing so clinical that it was tough to separate whether New Zealand were as deficient as they looked or South Africa were as dominant. It was more a case of the combination of the two that made the differences so stark. "It was a poor batting performance coupled with an outstanding bowling performance," McCullum said.

And that was only after the first 20 overs.

New Zealand came back for an over, when Doug Bracwell had Graeme Smith out for 1 but then Alviro Petersen, partnered by Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis continued to take the game away from them. That is where New Zealand sit now. Those who did not buy tickets for day four know their decision was the right one.

The match could well end in two days and all New Zealand can do is try to claw back some respect. "The real challenge is to turn up tomorrow and try and get a job done. We've got to bowl them out and then we've got the opportunity to bat and bat for our lives," McCullum said. "We've got to put in a performance that is worthy of New Zealand cricket." The problem for them is that South Africa are after the same thing.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 3, 2013, 11:35 GMT

    Bring in Luke Ronchi.I think he qualifies for NZ in about ten days.Fly him over NOW!

  • Tony on January 3, 2013, 10:11 GMT

    @Pardo- i agree we need two divisons. Maybe we can have 4 top teams in the Upper tier, and the next 4 in lower tier. But what we need is that these two tiers should be flexible and needs to be updated every 4 years. We have a very liberal structure right now and this reflects the old laid back times of cricket when teams just toured each other at their sweet will without any overseeing authority like ICC. Now we have an ICC, which decides the scheduling of Test matches to a large degree so individual countries have no choice and are forced to play every team whether they like or not. If we have two tier structure we can eliminate lots of meaningless matches, increase the good ones and can genuinely think about a World Championship of Test matches. Then we can update the tier after every round of Test championship 4 years cycle.

  • Ed on January 3, 2013, 9:48 GMT

    I totally agree with Lebowski. McCullum & Guptil are both massive under performers. Yet we have players like Hamish Marshall and Sinclair who were dropped form the Test side with much better records. McCullum averages about 31 in tests - how is he still in the side ? Guptil seems incapable of transfering his ODi and T20 form, so drop him. I'd MUCH rather seeing youngsters getting a chance, and chances are they'll get more runs than these two.

  • Paul on January 3, 2013, 9:36 GMT

    Hesson and McCullum basically did a job on Taylor, So i cannot believe that on his first big decision McCullum went into bat. Did not Hesson think hang on Brendon, we have a weak batting line-up, facing the best bowling line-up in the world at present, on a green top, away from home, were down on confidence, and with Martin playing we only have 10 batters. CAN SOMEONE PLEASE EXPLAIN TO ME at what stage Hesson thought hey Brendon why not bat First !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Dummy4 on January 3, 2013, 9:23 GMT

    Sadly for McCullum, this was a performance worthy of New Zealand cricket. In a country that gets its identity through an obsession with a dishonest rugby team, there's not much left for other sports. They try their best but only All Blacks matter and once you weaken even that through politicking this is what you get. They will never be more than honest triers except when the odd outstandingly gifted performer comes along like a Hadlee.

  • Paul on January 3, 2013, 9:01 GMT

    Okay have to reply to a couple of comments Wood Dash- McIntosh and How both had ample opportunities to cement their places they were dropped for performing exactly the same as the current players. Lebowski yes Guptill sums up NZ cric in a nutshell heaps of potential but!!!!!, problem is who do you replace them with. I have supported NZ cric all my life but last night was the most disappointed i have ever been. But i don't know what the answer is. (maybe we are just crap at cricket).

  • James on January 3, 2013, 8:44 GMT

    let's not forget that South Africa and Australia were both out for sub 100 scores in SA not that long ago. SA can be a difficult place to bat at the best of times. Cut the Kiwis a little slack.

  • Stephen on January 3, 2013, 8:13 GMT

    "They are in two different leagues." You're right - or at least, they should be. Test cricket needs to adopt a two division system so that the best teams can play proper 4-5 test series regularly and not waste time and money with embarresments like this. I'm a New Zealander but I grew up in the age of Hadlee, Crowe, Wright & Smith. Four genuinely test class players is the minimum you need to compete - outside of the 1980s the most NZ have ever had is 2 or 3. This team have none. I love New Zealand, but I also love proper test cricket. I'd much rather watch the Ashes or India v SA than this drivel. We need two division test cricket, with possibly the occasional game between a "best of Div 2" team against the big boys.

  • The on January 3, 2013, 7:01 GMT

    Luckily everyone's forgotten the 9/21 debacle.

  • matthew on January 3, 2013, 5:37 GMT

    Guptill epitomises everything that is wrong with NZ cricket..he has played 52 test innings for an average of 32, he has 2 test centuries against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe..his stats are awful but he continues to get selected without question. Mathew Sinclair test stats: 56 innings avg 32..identical to Guptill but the difference is that Sinclair got dropped from the side numerous times..So either the selectors are incapable of processing the fact that Guptill's flashy innings in T20 do not change the fact that he is a rubbish test cricketer or the depth of first class cricket is so terrible that he is still considered the best option!! which is a truly depressing thought