New Zealand in Sri Lanka 2012-13 October 28, 2012

Where has New Zealand's fight gone?

It is difficult to pinpoint why New Zealand seem to have lost the ability to dig in, which was once their trademark characteristic. They must rediscover it to have any chance against Sri Lanka
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Over the years, New Zealand had endeared themselves to a legion of overseas fans with their attitude and style. Almost always the underdogs, in the past they have competed with the top teams by striking a unity of purpose that has elevated the collective beyond the sum of its parts. Bowlers would find a way to make runs where the batsmen could not, part-timers would crack partnerships and turn matches, and the team would scrap their way out of adversity - if not always to victory. No longer. The spunk has left their game. It has been gone some years now.

New Zealand's recent record does not make for pleasant reading. They arrive in Sri Lanka less encumbered by expectations as a result, with fans at home becoming increasingly disenchanted with a cricket team whose shortcomings are made all the more stark by the All Blacks' success. New Zealand have been trounced in their last two away series, and beaten soundly by South Africa at home. Their last Test series win against top-eight opposition was in early 2006. In ODIs, it has been almost three years since they have defeated a top-eight side. More recently, even their Twenty20 game seems to have slipped.

Frustratingly, it is difficult to put a finger on a concrete reason for the slide, particularly in limited-overs cricket. They don't lack for talent with the bat, boasting two of the hardest hitters in the game for their senior batsmen and a decent opener in Martin Guptill. The younger batsmen have some technical deficiencies - for it is difficult for a domestic talent pool as shallow as New Zealand's to produce complete batsmen - but there are no glaring flaws shared by the group as a whole. Thirty-one wickets to Ravi Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha in the two recent Tests in India suggests a weakness against spin, but that has not been a theme in other series, or in the shorter formats.

But there has been a marked dearth in that intangible quality that once made them such a compelling side to watch. There has been an inability to dig in and claw back at more highly fancied opposition. Numbers six to nine were once almost a failsafe top-order, but lately they have been fitting precursors to Chris Martin's paper-thin blade. A middle order that once used to flourish under pressure now shrinks at the first sight of it. In the field, they have lost that ability to rally after a breakthrough, and to force a collapse through sheer bottle.

It is that force of will that they must rediscover if they are to win in Sri Lanka. Their top order may not command the records Sri Lanka's colossi do, but what they lack in numbers, they must make up for in desperation, as New Zealand sides of the past once did. The bowlers might not have the measure of the opposition batsmen through skill alone, but when a wicket falls, they must feed off each other's energy to incite panic in the opposition. Fielding is the one discipline in which New Zealand's standards have remained high, and yet they must find ways to exert pressure through presence. Improving technique and temperament is often a lengthy process, but regaining that hunger and killer attitude need not be.

It is difficult to see New Zealand excelling in the Tests, especially at Galle and the SSC, which are not conducive to seam bowling, but to give themselves a chance in the longer format, New Zealand must begin the tour strongly in the limited-overs leg. They will perhaps take encouragement from a World Twenty20 campaign that was a not a disaster. New Zealand tied with both eventual finalists before being bested each time in the Super Over, and they know that an extra run here or there might have seen them qualify for the semi-finals ahead of the eventual champions. New Zealand also played all five World Twenty20 matches at Pallekele, where they begin the tour with a one-off Twenty20 and the first ODI. These may seem contrived sources of optimism, but with a recent record as dire as theirs, New Zealand must find positivity wherever they can.

Sri Lanka is no easy place to tour for even the best teams, and the hosts will expect to trounce a New Zealand side at one of their lowest ebbs in the modern era. New Zealand need a breakthrough tour to end their torment and there is little to suggest that this tour will be it, but if they can rediscover the panache that once defined them, they may just catch fire like the sides of yesteryear did.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on October 30, 2012, 10:16 GMT

    Patchmaster is very correct, I notice how Ross tugs his shoulders too much (the shirt) and is not aggresive enough, sometimes I think he leads from behind and not from the front... NZ needs a T20 captain (Bazza) and a Test Captain. Rosco is a great player but seems to lack the 'feralness' required to be the NZ captain... EVen a composed feralness like Flemming owned.

  • on October 30, 2012, 6:51 GMT

    New Zealand can play well against any country in the world but at the moment their performances have made me cringe,As a New Zealander i have enjoyed many fabulous games of cricket but we seem to be relying on a pack of underperfoming players especially the experienced ones,captains, coaches and selectors have been getting it so wrong for so long ,It's no wonder that we are confined to short series which does not help our players...When was the last time New Zealand played a 5 test series?

  • denwarlo70 on October 30, 2012, 3:19 GMT

    I'm a Sri Lankan and I won't write the NZ team off just like that. They are good fighters like us Lankans and on their day, they could definitely give the opposition the run for their money. But the sad part is whenever there is a SL/NZ series, the weather Gods always stand between the two teams, no difference this time around too, so fingers crossed, let's see how the series progresses...

  • 4seamers on October 30, 2012, 0:15 GMT

    i dont think things are that dire for nz.. they have had a tough time with coaches coming and going, but i rate the current set up. they are promoting talent at the right time, while constantly improving technical deficiencies. Results havent been great(especially batting), but thats the nature of cricket.. look at what happened on indias tour of england. imo, we have more talent than we have had in a while. mccullum, guptil, taylor and williamson are good batsmen. latham is very talented also. Our bowlers are on the up too. southee, boult and bracewell were influencial in winning the aussie test, while patel came of age in india. adam milne, who can bowl 150kph, is on the rise too. Hopefully, with stability in the management team (and jesse rhyder), our results will improve.

  • moosa_sweeper on October 29, 2012, 23:17 GMT

    Although SL are strong on paper, I have a feeling that NZ will give a good fight. Looks like a great series coming up.

  • on October 29, 2012, 22:58 GMT

    NZ just doesnt have the cricketing talent to stand upto world class teams.

  • on October 29, 2012, 22:25 GMT

    The problems for the Black Caps stem from the grass roots issues. Pitches in New Zealand are far too green, they encourage back of a length medium pace which at international level simply isn't good enough.The pitches too are of poor quality, allowing excessive swing and seam making it too easy for bowlers who bowl with a bolt upright swing. Those who succeed in New Zealand club conditions fail overseas because they are unable to adjust to more batter friendly wickets. As a result Batsmen both at club and provincial level too have lost their ability to build innings mainly because the ball is so often dominant over the bat. As a result of all of this, pitches in New Zealand do not encourage fast bowling, in fact they punish risk taking therefore leading to the current lack of fast bowler pedigree.

  • Patchmaster on October 29, 2012, 21:47 GMT

    I think the problems for NZ are (and I'm and NZer) Ross Taylor isn't an inspiring captain or leader, we have just sacked the best coach we had in years and years and employed a 'stats man', which is the last thing we need. Plus our players have the mindset of money before manning up, i.e. IPL takes priority and is the main aim of young players it seems. We used to be a nation of fighters in the cricket arena, now we're a nation that just goes through the motions in tests it seems. A different coach, or bring back the last one is the starting point, then I'd like to see Kane Williamson or Guptil as captain.

  • flak on October 29, 2012, 18:36 GMT

    I think the NZ problems go back a lot further than just the last few years. Since the introduction of the shorter versions of the game, especially T20, the performances of the test team have plummetted. The biggest problem is with the batting, they don't have the players that will graft out an innings week after week. In days gone by we had batesmen like Congdon, Coney, Wright, Edgar, Martin & Jeff Crowe, Richardson, to name a few, When was the last time NZ plated a test match that went the full distance of 5 days .... but that seems to be an international trend these days with numerous test matches over in 4 days or less. I know this will be tough at first on a small cricketing nation like NZ, but in my opinion players should be only permitted to play in 2 of the national teams, either, test and limited overs matches, or limited over and T20 matches

  • on October 29, 2012, 16:43 GMT

    I am not a huge fan of Ross Taylor, especially his "always-slog-sweep" mode. He hasn't fared any better in recent memory and doesn't deserve the captaincy. Unfortunately, Vettori looks like a passenger on the team bus and is no longer the all-rounder he was. To me, the problem started with Vettori giving up captaincy. The spunk has gone out. Ross is not aggressive enough. Looking back at Fleming and Vettori, the captains they were brought the team together to show some fight and regularly challenged fancier opponents. That's what is lacking now.

    Do they have someone to fit the bill now? I doubt.

    - Long time BC fan.

  • on October 30, 2012, 10:16 GMT

    Patchmaster is very correct, I notice how Ross tugs his shoulders too much (the shirt) and is not aggresive enough, sometimes I think he leads from behind and not from the front... NZ needs a T20 captain (Bazza) and a Test Captain. Rosco is a great player but seems to lack the 'feralness' required to be the NZ captain... EVen a composed feralness like Flemming owned.

  • on October 30, 2012, 6:51 GMT

    New Zealand can play well against any country in the world but at the moment their performances have made me cringe,As a New Zealander i have enjoyed many fabulous games of cricket but we seem to be relying on a pack of underperfoming players especially the experienced ones,captains, coaches and selectors have been getting it so wrong for so long ,It's no wonder that we are confined to short series which does not help our players...When was the last time New Zealand played a 5 test series?

  • denwarlo70 on October 30, 2012, 3:19 GMT

    I'm a Sri Lankan and I won't write the NZ team off just like that. They are good fighters like us Lankans and on their day, they could definitely give the opposition the run for their money. But the sad part is whenever there is a SL/NZ series, the weather Gods always stand between the two teams, no difference this time around too, so fingers crossed, let's see how the series progresses...

  • 4seamers on October 30, 2012, 0:15 GMT

    i dont think things are that dire for nz.. they have had a tough time with coaches coming and going, but i rate the current set up. they are promoting talent at the right time, while constantly improving technical deficiencies. Results havent been great(especially batting), but thats the nature of cricket.. look at what happened on indias tour of england. imo, we have more talent than we have had in a while. mccullum, guptil, taylor and williamson are good batsmen. latham is very talented also. Our bowlers are on the up too. southee, boult and bracewell were influencial in winning the aussie test, while patel came of age in india. adam milne, who can bowl 150kph, is on the rise too. Hopefully, with stability in the management team (and jesse rhyder), our results will improve.

  • moosa_sweeper on October 29, 2012, 23:17 GMT

    Although SL are strong on paper, I have a feeling that NZ will give a good fight. Looks like a great series coming up.

  • on October 29, 2012, 22:58 GMT

    NZ just doesnt have the cricketing talent to stand upto world class teams.

  • on October 29, 2012, 22:25 GMT

    The problems for the Black Caps stem from the grass roots issues. Pitches in New Zealand are far too green, they encourage back of a length medium pace which at international level simply isn't good enough.The pitches too are of poor quality, allowing excessive swing and seam making it too easy for bowlers who bowl with a bolt upright swing. Those who succeed in New Zealand club conditions fail overseas because they are unable to adjust to more batter friendly wickets. As a result Batsmen both at club and provincial level too have lost their ability to build innings mainly because the ball is so often dominant over the bat. As a result of all of this, pitches in New Zealand do not encourage fast bowling, in fact they punish risk taking therefore leading to the current lack of fast bowler pedigree.

  • Patchmaster on October 29, 2012, 21:47 GMT

    I think the problems for NZ are (and I'm and NZer) Ross Taylor isn't an inspiring captain or leader, we have just sacked the best coach we had in years and years and employed a 'stats man', which is the last thing we need. Plus our players have the mindset of money before manning up, i.e. IPL takes priority and is the main aim of young players it seems. We used to be a nation of fighters in the cricket arena, now we're a nation that just goes through the motions in tests it seems. A different coach, or bring back the last one is the starting point, then I'd like to see Kane Williamson or Guptil as captain.

  • flak on October 29, 2012, 18:36 GMT

    I think the NZ problems go back a lot further than just the last few years. Since the introduction of the shorter versions of the game, especially T20, the performances of the test team have plummetted. The biggest problem is with the batting, they don't have the players that will graft out an innings week after week. In days gone by we had batesmen like Congdon, Coney, Wright, Edgar, Martin & Jeff Crowe, Richardson, to name a few, When was the last time NZ plated a test match that went the full distance of 5 days .... but that seems to be an international trend these days with numerous test matches over in 4 days or less. I know this will be tough at first on a small cricketing nation like NZ, but in my opinion players should be only permitted to play in 2 of the national teams, either, test and limited overs matches, or limited over and T20 matches

  • on October 29, 2012, 16:43 GMT

    I am not a huge fan of Ross Taylor, especially his "always-slog-sweep" mode. He hasn't fared any better in recent memory and doesn't deserve the captaincy. Unfortunately, Vettori looks like a passenger on the team bus and is no longer the all-rounder he was. To me, the problem started with Vettori giving up captaincy. The spunk has gone out. Ross is not aggressive enough. Looking back at Fleming and Vettori, the captains they were brought the team together to show some fight and regularly challenged fancier opponents. That's what is lacking now.

    Do they have someone to fit the bill now? I doubt.

    - Long time BC fan.

  • jackthelad on October 29, 2012, 16:03 GMT

    The major factor in this contest, I fear, will be the weather; we've been having torrential rain more or less continually for the last few weeks, and the monsoon has at least another month to run (November is generally one of the wettest months of the year). I refrain from commenting on the dire financial necessity that forces SL to play every game and series they can feasibly beg or steal, and merely point out that October and November are very very wet every single year and must either be earmarked for overseas tours or - preferably - taken as rest-time, which the players sorely need.

  • on October 29, 2012, 14:15 GMT

    they r playing as 1 n hunger to win is missing certainly ..

  • bablankalhan55_youtube on October 29, 2012, 13:59 GMT

    bring on Jesse Ryder...such quality should not be ignored

  • on October 29, 2012, 13:28 GMT

    A simple solution to get back their confidence: play India at home ;)

  • CricketMaan on October 29, 2012, 13:04 GMT

    Strength - Herath, Mendis (enough to win it 2-0). Weakness - No Malinga or other quicks to rattle. Threat - Rain?

  • HawK89 on October 29, 2012, 11:38 GMT

    McCullum is the only one who actually puts in an effort to get his team somewhere. Everyone else is either playing for themselves or doesn't want to be there. Taylor isn't smart with his batting, yet he is given captaincy.

  • stormy16 on October 29, 2012, 11:14 GMT

    Hadnt realized NZ had such issues but have to agree with the writer - they have had some major defeats in recent times and it not really the lack of talent. There is enough quality with bat and ball to warrant better performances. If I am not mistaken Bangladesh trounced them in their last limited over series and WI also beat them more recently.

  • Hira1 on October 29, 2012, 11:06 GMT

    @Gagg why not try Guptil and franklin, specially franklin as I really see him the only player in the current NZ team who is playing to win the match, rest all are quite content with their own performances

  • plow on October 29, 2012, 11:05 GMT

    New Zealand's fight and desperation went with their captain. The captain isn't showing any desperation to win so he sets the tone. He's just there for the cruise... It's a shame because Ross Taylor is so talented.

  • on October 29, 2012, 11:01 GMT

    AnoMaLy Sri Lanka isn't a minnow team they are of much higher rank than New Zealand.

  • shortsillypoint on October 29, 2012, 10:56 GMT

    Black Caps only perform if the money if good enough - they are great for other teams = Mc Cullums x 2 / Oram etc. Sadly Int rep means nothing much these days.

  • KingOwl on October 29, 2012, 10:44 GMT

    Great writing! Cricinfo needs more writers of Andrew's caliber.

  • on October 29, 2012, 10:37 GMT

    NZ have a daunting task ahead of them against the Giant killing Lions.I doubt thiis series would change much but NZ should look to winning small battles in each session(in tests) one dayers and t20s they usually have a very good side that can challenge the best specially in wc's so that works for them. Sri lanka should look to finding depth in their bowling which seems very paper thin,but their batting can make up for it(sanga,mahela,dilly,sam,pras)

  • Mr.Fox on October 29, 2012, 10:17 GMT

    Lovely article; captures my sentiments as an NZ supporter pretty accurately. The one thing I would add is that a problem New Zealand now suffers from is that we struggle to get anything more than a two-Test series against any decent opposition. It takes a while to adjust to conditions, but before you know it we're launching into the usual soon-to-be-forgotten round of limited overs cricket. We need time to develop a Test narrative.

  • on October 29, 2012, 10:14 GMT

    Oram was a master in the Sri Lankan league so glad to have him around. NZ has the most talent now since the 80's, I really hope the very best for them and will be watching again even if i do have to turn off at 6/24 off 24 overs....

  • AnoMaLy on October 29, 2012, 9:54 GMT

    Chance of a lifetime for the black caps to regain their form against this average minnow team

  • SamAsh07 on October 29, 2012, 9:24 GMT

    The only thing Kiwis need to aim for in this tour is - avoid a whitewash. Aim for small feats then go for series wins.

  • StevieS on October 29, 2012, 8:06 GMT

    Also wait till the new and improved Ryder comes back, his is in blistering pre season form, by all accounts he is bating better than ever and also back to bowling.

  • StevieS on October 29, 2012, 8:03 GMT

    Hira1 we are just waiting for Williamson to get a few more years under his belt and then he will replace Taylor as captain.

  • on October 29, 2012, 7:54 GMT

    Constant poor selections have happened New Zealand. Players need to graft there runs rather than scoring a quick 20 off 15 balls doesn't win matches. Seam bowling in New Zealand is very good at the moment. Batsman need to score more runs for these bowlers to bowl at. Bat for two days rather than two sessions.

  • Venki_indian on October 29, 2012, 7:35 GMT

    Can anyone tell me If DRS is there for this series?

  • welleft on October 29, 2012, 7:32 GMT

    One more chance to MJ to score more centuries and runs in the same grounds, where he made 60% of his international runs. :):)

  • on October 29, 2012, 7:21 GMT

    Andrew Fernando is one of the best writers at Cricinfo - and that's saying somethiing. Love your writing style!

  • on October 29, 2012, 6:22 GMT

    We will get there. Just need far far better management!

  • Hira1 on October 29, 2012, 6:03 GMT

    Taylor is the worst captain one can ever see in any form of cricket......he is batting down the order in crucial matches when team requires him the most, he is a good batsman but some one else be captaining him to get the most out from taylor......its better to make Franklin (shorter format) and Guptil (test match) captain.

  • zenboomerang on October 29, 2012, 6:02 GMT

    @Andrew Fernando :- "Galle and the SSC, which are not conducive to seam bowling"... Perhaps not, but Harris (Oz) manages a 5-for at Galle last time, while Watson & Johnson had a successful match... While at SSC it was Siddle, Copeland & Johnson (for Oz) in a rain shortened match - the pitch really didn't help the spinners in both teams 1st innings nor the seamers...

  • on October 29, 2012, 6:00 GMT

    Selection is one of our main problems these days. Keeping Jacob Oram in the side, a man who has not done anything of note in over 3 years, is really hurting us. Then to not select Ryder, who is clearly on of the countries top batsmen. And then there is the wishful selection of mediocre spinners, none of whom have the skills required for international cricket. Pick the best bowlers and the best batsmen please. Their job is to play cricket, not be pristine role models!

  • matchfixerpkn on October 29, 2012, 5:59 GMT

    hope fuly there will be not another one sided series against as agaisnt indian and pakistna recently whre home team lost almost every match withoiut giving any proper fight..

  • sandeepgla on October 29, 2012, 5:34 GMT

    Sri lanka will whitewash Kiwis in all formats.

  • nthuq on October 29, 2012, 4:10 GMT

    Their tour to India, particularly their last test there was very encouraging. If they can fight back like they did there, they'll go a long way.

  • Jenga94 on October 29, 2012, 2:55 GMT

    NZ were respectable against South Africa...

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  • Jenga94 on October 29, 2012, 2:55 GMT

    NZ were respectable against South Africa...

  • nthuq on October 29, 2012, 4:10 GMT

    Their tour to India, particularly their last test there was very encouraging. If they can fight back like they did there, they'll go a long way.

  • sandeepgla on October 29, 2012, 5:34 GMT

    Sri lanka will whitewash Kiwis in all formats.

  • matchfixerpkn on October 29, 2012, 5:59 GMT

    hope fuly there will be not another one sided series against as agaisnt indian and pakistna recently whre home team lost almost every match withoiut giving any proper fight..

  • on October 29, 2012, 6:00 GMT

    Selection is one of our main problems these days. Keeping Jacob Oram in the side, a man who has not done anything of note in over 3 years, is really hurting us. Then to not select Ryder, who is clearly on of the countries top batsmen. And then there is the wishful selection of mediocre spinners, none of whom have the skills required for international cricket. Pick the best bowlers and the best batsmen please. Their job is to play cricket, not be pristine role models!

  • zenboomerang on October 29, 2012, 6:02 GMT

    @Andrew Fernando :- "Galle and the SSC, which are not conducive to seam bowling"... Perhaps not, but Harris (Oz) manages a 5-for at Galle last time, while Watson & Johnson had a successful match... While at SSC it was Siddle, Copeland & Johnson (for Oz) in a rain shortened match - the pitch really didn't help the spinners in both teams 1st innings nor the seamers...

  • Hira1 on October 29, 2012, 6:03 GMT

    Taylor is the worst captain one can ever see in any form of cricket......he is batting down the order in crucial matches when team requires him the most, he is a good batsman but some one else be captaining him to get the most out from taylor......its better to make Franklin (shorter format) and Guptil (test match) captain.

  • on October 29, 2012, 6:22 GMT

    We will get there. Just need far far better management!

  • on October 29, 2012, 7:21 GMT

    Andrew Fernando is one of the best writers at Cricinfo - and that's saying somethiing. Love your writing style!

  • welleft on October 29, 2012, 7:32 GMT

    One more chance to MJ to score more centuries and runs in the same grounds, where he made 60% of his international runs. :):)