South Africa v NZ, 1st Test, Cape Town, 2nd day January 3, 2013

New Zealand arrive a day late

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

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.

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 correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sean on January 4, 2013, 4:41 GMT

    Yes well done TheRisingeam. Remember England were utter rubbish for well over a decade and despite beating a terrible India they were shown exactly how good this RSA team was last summer. Correct NZ are terrible at the moment but perhaps a little perspective might add some spice to your otherwise bland opinion.

  • Beau on January 4, 2013, 4:29 GMT

    Wow, Firdose Moonda is a tough judge!

    Brownlie's first Test century, playing out of position, under extreme pressure from the best attack in the world, in the 2nd innings of a series opener in South Africa, at Newlands, on a wearing, uneven surface, would be a minor achievement?

    The NZ bowlers taking 5 for 90-odd without an iota of scoreboard pressure (or Southee) doesn't even rate a mention, even though it forced Smith into a declaration earlier and with fewer runs than his record suggests he would have prefered?

    Like I said, a tough judge. By my somewhat less lofty standards, the fact that the Test didn't end today was a minor achievement. After a 1st innings total of 45, every session NZ delay SA's victory is a minor achievement.

    That said, if NZ can take this Test in to day 4, I'll be very surprised. If SA bat again I'll be very surprised. Much more likely that NZ'll fold within ten overs tomorrow morning. But, as always, we NZ fans live in hope.

  • Kevin on January 4, 2013, 0:19 GMT

    Yes NZ arrived a day late, and SA lacked the imagination to forfeit their first innings and put NZ straight back in. Given the momentum from the bowlers, THAT would have been the mark of a truly great and confident team. The sheer audacity and drama of such a move would have been a legend in the making. The test might have been over within a day. But no, we have to suffer through another day or so of excruciatingly slow death, zzzzzz... ...wake me up when its all over someone!

  • Shipu on January 3, 2013, 23:27 GMT

    Ha! they are still playing bad just a little better with patience and shot selection other than that, they're getting crushed. Pointless of them playing England home and away as we know what the result is going to be minnow team.

  • Dummy4 on January 3, 2013, 22:39 GMT

    Tom Cat You Warrior. Great spell today from the veteran.

  • Jon on January 3, 2013, 22:31 GMT

    Newsflash! Guptill isnt an opener. McCullums clearly not an opener. They're both covering that position because New Zealand hasn't produced a half decent opener since the days of Richardson and Fleming, who (wait for it...) wasn't a opener either!

    The powers that be here in NZL for the last 10 years have been attempting to create openers because we simply dont have any. And we've literally tried everyone! How, Bell, Redmond, Sinclair, Cummings, Watling, McIntosh, Nicol, Flynn and many others and not one of them has managed to cement that specialist opener role.

    Of the players listed above, perhaps McIntosh and Watling showed the most potential. We now have Jeet Raval emerging as a future option and and there's some buzz around young Hamish Rutherford and Carl Cachopa.

    If we need to "invent" another opener then maybe Dean Brownlie should stick his hand up - raised in Perth and looks pretty sound against the quicks.

  • Dummy4 on January 3, 2013, 21:18 GMT

    For a team like NZ to have their 4 best players (Taylor, Southee, Ryder and Vettori) unavailable it is very tough. No excuses however, they were woeful in the first innings.

  • Ben on January 3, 2013, 20:30 GMT

    Two players worth giving a go opening: - Jeet Raval - Averaging over 42 this season and has been good in previous seasons. - Hamish Rutherford - shws huge promise though this year his Plunket form has not been as good.

    I'd like to see Jeet play against England

  • Matthew on January 3, 2013, 19:54 GMT

    Moonda is spot on about Guptill (I mentioned the same things about him in another comment elsewhere) but who are the alternatives? New Zealand need another Mark Richardson and John Wright from somewhere - in other words a gutsy player with a sound technique but there doesn't seem to many players putting pressure on the likes of Guptill and McCullum. As I've mentioned the skipper, I thought he batted well today. It probably won't quieten his critics but I thought he played a sensible knock and reined in his natural instinct.

  • Corey on January 3, 2013, 19:08 GMT

    Guptill is a real problem opening, his test game is a mess. He should have one last chance in the next test otherwise surely he loses his place. I knew he was bad in tests but only managing to get over 16 once in 10 innings is awful. Theres no question about ODI and T20 tho just wish he could transfer that form over

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