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The chasm between the two sides is still as wide as it is deep and all New Zealand have done is cushion the blow when they hit the bottom
Firdose Moonda in Cape Town
January 3, 2013
You can exhale now. Shift into a more comfortable position in your seat. Maybe even stretch your arms. That's you Mike Hesson and you John Buchanan and even you, the rightfully angry New Zealand fan.
Don't relax too much though. Today was exponentially better than yesterday but as far as the result goes, it is unlikely to make much difference.
What it did was indicate that New Zealand are not as bad as 45 all out suggested and that things will not come as easily to South Africa. The chasm between the two sides is still as wide as it is deep and all New Zealand have done is cushion the blow when they hit the bottom.
Martin Guptill remains a problem. He is talented, aggressive and strong on the drive, but those three qualities are difficult to appreciate when he produces so infrequently. In his last 10 Test innings, Guptill has scored more than 16 only once. He's had to deal with different opening partners which may have affected his individual output and New Zealand cricket should be scouring the landscape for someone who does not have that problem.
The line-up as a whole continues to lack gravitas, which may be rectified somewhat when Ross Taylor returns. But even Taylor's inclusion gives New Zealand only two senior batsmen in the top six. A brief survey of batting line-ups of successful teams reveals that they need four to be able to challenge bowling attacks consistently.
Today, two of them did that. Brendon McCullum and Dean Brownlie performed the way international batsmen should in a Test match. The most marked difference in their own approach from the innings before? They were patient.
McCullum uncharacteristically so. The first 56 balls he faced yielded only 13 runs. In that time, he was beaten, he was tempted into playing at deliveries that just moved enough to get an edge, he edged once and it fell short and he took a few on the body that kicked up off a short length. He did not lose concentration. He waited and waited and waited while South Africa's bowlers did everything they could.
It was only when Morkel missed his attempted yorker and McCullum timed the drive down the ground as well as the perfect fillet steak which has spent just the right amount of it on the grill. It was tender but powerful and it was one of the few things of beauty in McCullum's innings. For the most part, it was drudgery of the honest kind that men who dig trenches know about.
Having fought that hard, for McCullum to pad up to the spin of Robin Peterson was a sign that he was wearing mentally. It was not the way the leader would have wanted to go, especially after he had survived a dropped catch and not been ruffled by it.
Alviro Petersen on South Africa's day
Luckily for the team, Brownlie had enough temperament to take over. He was also dropped, twice. But his confidence was strong. He knew immediately that he had not hit the ball when he was given out caught behind off Dale Steyn. He called for the review without hesitation and it proved him correct.
As a result of that, he will be able to continue tomorrow with New Zealand 133 behind and the new ball 32 overs away. It's that which Chris Martin thinks could help them make South Africa bat again. "It's definitely a new-ball pitch. Once the ball gets softer it's easier to score," Martin said, before adding a cautionary word. "But you saw that there were still a few which surprised off a length and still there is enough there to keep the bowlers interested."
All New Zealand can do is continue to hold South Africa at bay and delay the inevitable because they started playing this Test a day late. Yesterday, it was obvious that Brendon McCullum knew that, today it was clear Martin felt the same way. He confirmed that there were no tantrums thrown in the New Zealand change-room last night, just quiet reflection on how they could salvage some respect.
"Harsh words probably wouldn't have helped. It was quite reasoned, quite straightforward. The best way to deal with it was in the way the batsmen applied themselves today. They may not have put the attack under pressure but they definitely absorbed pressure," Martin said. "We started our Test match today, which is not the way to go about it. Against very good sides that can put you well behind the game."
As suspected, New Zealand will have to take minor achievements out of an overall failure. If Brownlie can get to three figures, that will be one of them. If the lower middle-order can help him get there, that will be another. If they can make South Africa bat again, that could be a third.
But South Africa will not want to grant them even that. Although they lost discipline with the ball towards the end of the day, they are more likely to find it in the morning than not. For New Zealand to be prepared for that, they will have to bat even better than they did today.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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