New Zealand in Sri Lanka, 2012-13 December 1, 2012

Colombo win just a start for New Zealand

The team is making the right noises, but consistency must define New Zealand if they are to achieve real progress.

With the fall of each wicket in the fourth innings in Colombo, New Zealand's celebrations became increasingly animated. Their bowlers had become their spring of confidence in the series, and as New Zealand's belligerence with the bat in the third innings and Ross Taylor's declaration showed, belief had spread quickly to all aspects of their game just a week after their most tentative performance of the year. As each chance was pocketed, enthusiasm turned to effervescence; grunts of contentment became squeals of delight. New Zealand had not had a meaningful Test victory in almost a year, and they were striding closer to completing a remarkable comeback. 

Though they had been worn down by five straight Test losses and a winless tour until Thursday evening, the victory at the P Sara and their subsequent celebrations will be New Zealand's enduring memories of the tour, and that will likely equip the team with further resolve for the months to come. But while they must wring this win for every drop of feel-good it can provide them, they cannot forget their failures. In Galle, New Zealand were awful on a track conducive to turn from day one - which the P Sara surface was decidedly not. They had been similarly incapable of resisting the wiles of Pragyan Ojha and R Ashwin on turning tracks in India, in August. 

Two New Zealand batsmen struck upon the appropriate tempo and summoned the technique to keep Rangana Herath out for large periods in Colombo, but unless they wish to go another three years until their next 200-run stand against a top-eight side, they must endeavour to assess the pitch and the bowling more consistently, and work out a steady method that will breed long-term success. Among their top six, only Taylor, Kane Williamson and Martin Guptill have made hundreds since January 2011, with Guptill's lone ton having come against Zimbabwe. 

There are issues with team composition that remain unresolved as well, beginning with Brendon McCullum's position in the batting order. His technique and temperament appear to suit the role of a No. 6 far better than a top-order batsman despite the initial success he had as an opener, but a return of just seven fifties from 29 innings in the last two years has not sparked a change of heart. Lately, he has also arrived at first drop, and even in this age of hyper-aggressive batsmanship, No. 3 has been a position that has continued to reward the more measured approach of a Sangakkara, Amla, Trott or Dravid. 

The bowling appears to have fewer dilemmas, but for all their promise, New Zealand's young pacemen have not yet proved themselves consistent. Tim Southee's dramatic outswing will earn him reams of Test match victims, but only if he can sustain that skill in the years to come. He has always been capable of moving the ball, yet as recently as three months ago, he was s sporadic starter in the Test side. Southee said in Sri Lanka that the ball was "coming out nicely at the moment", but if New Zealand are to compete in their upcoming tour of South Africa and beyond, they will need him to weld permanence to that form - something he has not done so far in his career. 

It has been a hard twelve months, but this is a start and players are starting to get confidence
Ross Taylor

Upon arrival in New Zealand, Taylor stressed the importance of staying grounded despite the catharsis in their win. Despite the joy in the New Zealand camp and the disappointment in the Sri Lanka side, this was a drawn Test series, and the visitors seem not to have lost sight of that.

"It was nice to win and for our hard-work to pay off," Taylor said. "There's still a long way to go until we get to where we want to be as a team, and we look forward to that in the months to come. We need to keep working hard, keep believing and keep persevering with personnel. It has been a hard twelve months, but this is a start and players are starting to get confidence." 

From an operational perspective, it also appears vital that New Zealand give themselves at least one warm-up match to adjust to conditions when they tour overseas. They dived straight into a Test series in both their most recent tours, and on each occasion, they had only begun to come to grips with foreign conditions in the second match, in which they performed much more creditably than the first. Taylor and McCullum were positive that the lack of a warm-up match had not hurt them in Galle, and that in the era of brimming itineraries, players can adapt without a tour match. But not only is that argument inconsistent with their recent results, it also defies common sense. Happily they will play a three-day match before their Tests against South Africa that begin in just over a month. 

The victory at the P Sara brought relief, but New Zealand cannot afford to squander the confidence that win has afforded them. Their last big win was in Hobart, but in between, they endured their worst losing streak in 67 years. New Zealand are making the right noises about Colombo being only the start, but consistency must define them if they are to achieve real progress.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mark on December 4, 2012, 23:55 GMT

    As others have touched on the real problem for NZ is finding openers who can occupy the crease long enough for the free scorers diown the oder to prosper. McCullum is not an effective opener. A Top quality young opener to come through would be absolute gold for NZ.

  • Dummy4 on December 3, 2012, 6:47 GMT

    Guptill, Flynn, Williamson, Taylor, Ryder, Mccullum, Watling, Bracewell, Southee, Boult and a spinner. I would like to see Astle used more, as Patel hasn't really had a great impact and Astle would bolster the batting as well.

  • Raman on December 2, 2012, 7:42 GMT

    @Cpt.Meanster, If you are any sort of captain you should know that home advantage alone cannot win matches for the home teams. Look at the stats of Aus-SA match going on. You will see that "mighty" Australians also had a bad day. They did not have any home advantage in both batting and bowling.

  • Nimmie on December 2, 2012, 3:48 GMT

    NZ deserves credit for their fightback throughout the series with their young brigade of fast bowlers. Both Wiliamson, Southee&Boult were members of their Youth WC Team of 2007. In contrast our s'tors deliberatly ignore our youth who perform brilliantly (in youth t'ments,with very little money spent on them)at recent Youth WCs in2007&2010. The s'tors are determined to carry on with the 3 seniors regardless their continous poor perfomance, till the next WC, unfortunately the Local media too endorse every move of the s'tors. An interested person may check their (the 3) past records outside the Country, in this very website. M'thews too wouldn't find a place in this team if we were just a batsman. All three seniors have to be replaced with these players I mentioned below. Khausal Silva, RoshenSilva, Angelo Perera,Bhanuka,AshenSilva,GayanManeshan,DimuthKarunarathna, Jehan Jayasuriya,Kithruwan Withanage,....(these are few names only).

  • Dummy4 on December 2, 2012, 0:50 GMT

    Was there any Vass influence in NZ performance...... both the test NZ bowlers performed well not allowing Sri Lankans to cross 250 runs..... ofcourse the bowlers had to put the ball at the right places, however did the off the field strategies really payoff....

  • Robert on December 1, 2012, 23:20 GMT

    @ Gagg: Yup that's spot on. Perhaps have Flynn opening, and get Vettori back in the team.

  • Ryan on December 1, 2012, 23:00 GMT

    I agree with Gagg. Ryder needs to harden up and make himself available, Watling must come in for van Wyk, and McCullum must drop down to five or six. The only trouble with that is we don't have depth in our first-class structure when it comes to opening batsmen. Lou Vincent has just made himself available but has yet to make a score for Auckland, Peter Fulton is scoring runs by the bucket-load but the selectors have already ruled him out because of his age (he's 33), Michael Papps made a big double hundred but that's just one score amongst a group of failures, and Aaron Redmond is in the same boat as Fulton. I liked Flynn as an opener in the South African and West Indies series' and the only way to get McCullum in the middle order is to move Flynn back up (Some people have thrown Williamson's name around but he is better left where he is). If we had depth at the top of the order I imagine Guptill would be looking over his shoulder but because we don't he feels safe.

  • Andrew on December 1, 2012, 20:01 GMT

    Have potentially a v good bowling attack, need to find balance in the middle order and find an attackin spinner. O and more consistancy.....McCullum in particular. Guptil,McCullum,Flynn,Taylor,Ryder,Williamson,Wattling,Vettori,Southee,Bracewell,Boult. McCullum needs to decide if he really wants to be a test cricketer and not use it as a means to get him shape for the 20/20 game. NZ needs players in the team that want to be in thr team for the right reasons, this will go a long way to them achieving more consistency..

  • Jay on December 1, 2012, 16:25 GMT

    OKAY ! so we have the mighty SL team downed by a supposedly meagre NZ side. So I guess 'home' advantage is slowly ceasing to exist for Asian teams. Don't know whether this situation needs to be celebrated or mourned.

  • Sarath on December 1, 2012, 16:17 GMT

    rightful place even in a 2nd XI team during this disastrous period.

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