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Firdose Moonda in Cape Town
January 5, 2013
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While South Africa's squad dispersed hours after completing their innings victory at Newlands and will enjoy three days off, New Zealand are not taking any breaks before for the second Test. They have practices planned for both days of the weekend which would have spent playing Test cricket had the match not ended before tea on Friday.
"It's important to feel the pulse of the group and find out what's required in terms of training because quite a mental toll gets taken on you when you play a Test match," Brendon McCullum, the New Zealand captain, said after defeat. "There are times when you need to get straight back on the horse and other times when you need to have a little bit of reflection."
Team management decided to put the emotion aside and concentrate on the former, despite a feeling of embarrassment and shock still running deep in their squad. McCullum used the word "hurt," at least four times when discussing how his players felt. That is unsurprising given that they lost the match in an hour and 40 minutes on the first morning when they were bowled out for 45.
New Zealand had seven sessions after that to digest what they had done and claw back respect. They managed to do a bit of both. McCullum is adamant that they cannot forget about being dismissed in less than 20 overs in a Test because the memory of that will help them avoid repeating it. But he also recognises that the team has to move on quickly because another challenge awaits.
For them to do that, they have focus on how they improved as the match went on and how they can continue to perform at the level they did on days two and three. "The way we responded with the ball on the second day and then to get to 169 for 4 was a remarkable improvement from the previous day," McCullum said. "We've seen some ways where we can be successful against South Africa if we do those hard yards upfront."
It helped that New Zealand's bowlers were able to exploit the movement on offer on the second morning. They also adjusted their lengths accordingly after they were guilty of inconsistency as they chased the game on the first afternoon. McCullum hinted that there will be some changes to the attack.
Chris Martin's three-wicket return may not justify replacing him but the suggestion is that Neil Wagner, another left-arm quick, will play in Port Elizabeth. Only if New Zealand are feeling particularly brave will they gamble on the rookie left-armer, Mitchell McClenaghan. Their spinner is also a cause for concern. Jeetan Patel was ineffective with the ball and comically bad with the bat. Bruce Martin, a left-arm spinner, has been taking wickets domestically and could come into contention for that spot.
One thing McCullum confirmed is that the batting, albeit the main problem, will not be tinkered with. That is partly because New Zealand do not have too many options. Colin Munro is the only reserve batsman on tour so the same top six will front up in the second Test. "They deserve an opportunity again especially since we can see some improvements," McCullum said.
In the second innings, New Zealand's line-up, bar Martin Guptill, moved their feet better, chose their shots more selectively and showed better temperament which included more patience and less hot-headed, ill-thought out aggression. By doing that, they bored South Africa's bowlers somewhat.
The evening session on day two saw the South Africa quicks drift. They expected New Zealand to struggle against the short ball but they didn't get the length exactly right and when they tried to go fuller and induce an edge, they gave away runs. According to McCullum that was how New Zealand transferred some of the pressure back to South Africa.
"We were able to implement a better defensive strategy against them which helped us absorb the pressure a little better. Once we were able to do that, we were also able to put some pressure back on to them. There are some encouraging signs," he said. "Those are some areas where we can walk away saying that if we continue to nail them that will give us a far better performance but we have to do that across the entire game rather than only the second innings."
New Zealand's focus over the next two days will be on how to improve their consistency and play more like they did in the second innings more often. That may take longer than two days to perfect, but they have to start somewhere.
Monday will be reserved for playing in a Jacques Kallis charity golf tournament, where the proceeds will go to his scholarship foundation. However, do not be surprised if New Zealand sneak in a net session too. They will travel to Port Elizabeth on Tuesday, as will the South African squad, who will meet up a day earlier than scheduled.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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