We weren't able to cope under pressure - Hesson
New Zealand's inability to deal with the heat is what worries their beleaguered coach Mike Hesson most. After a second successive substandard performance with the bat in the first innings of a Test match, Hesson was let down equally by his team's lack of application as he was by their lack of heart but he does not seem to have a fix either.
"It's a very disappointing 24 overs," Hesson said in his third fronting up to the media on this tour. "We prepared really well. We knew what we were going to be confronted with. The most disappointing thing was that when we were under pressure, we weren't able to cope."
Notably, Hesson's reason for his team's under-performance was more deflecting than it was explanatory. He heaped praise on a strong South African XI who applied wave after wave of pressure on the vulnerable New Zealand line-up, so much so that they simply could not withstand.
"We spent five and a half sessions out there, so we knew what to expect from the conditions. The pressure is sustained. Guys are under pressure in terms of pace and bounce and their techniques are getting exposed. I know the guys are working extremely hard and that why it's disappointing.
"We sustained pressure at times but they coped with it and that's the thing we are struggling to do. When we get pressure enforced on us, we struggled to get through and the more you talk about it, the harder it gets.
"South Africa is a very tough place to tour. They are the world No.1 side for a reason. They replaced Vernon Philander with Rory Kleinveldt - another high-class bowler. Once their bowlers smell a bit of blood, they are ruthless."
New Zealand held practice sessions every day after their first Test defeat and Hesson confirmed that the standards of practices remain high and the commitment from the players is unmatched. "The players are working extremely hard to get better. After the last Test, we could have put our feet up and gone oh well, tomorrow is another day," he said. "The guys know that we are nowhere near where we need to be and we are putting the work in. The players are trying their very best but we are being outclassed."
An example of that is Martin Guptill, who has scored two runs in three innings and continues to look inept as a Test opener. Hesson said Guptill, just like the rest of the unit, has been putting in the hard yards but just cannot make them count. "Martin prepared well for this Test, he was in a good space and he will be very disappointed with the way he was dismissed," he said. "When the ball swings at pace, you do tend to follow the ball. Sometimes you play and miss those…"
But blame cannot be laid at Guptill's door alone and Hesson and his troops are willing to take their chunk of it. "We all share the load. I can't fault the work ethic. We've got a support staff who work extremely hard but this Test match and the last Test match, we just haven't been up to it.. All of us start to think if we are challenged in whether we are doing the right things and whether we are challenging the players in the right way but I can't fault the work ethic."
In questioning the methods and strategies, Hesson conceded that perhaps the management group could implement stricter controls on the group. "We train hard, we train bounce and swing, we ramp the machine up and work on that and maybe we've got to do that more. We are just touching the surface in that area," he said. "Guys don't like to be challenged too much but we are making training more difficult and that's something we will look to continue."
As for the Taylor-shaped elephant in the room, Hesson addressed it candidly while being careful not to create the impression that the former captain alone would have been the difference. "I've said all along we'd be a far better side if Ross Taylor was here," he said. "But we've also got some other fine batsmen, who haven't quite been able to show it in those first three innings and they've got one more innings in this Test match. I'm sure they will be very determined to make a difference." If sentiment in New Zealand is to be believed, Hesson's job may hinge on that.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent