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

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

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Dummy4 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?

  • Denham 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...

  • carl 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.

  • Rohit 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.

  • Dummy4 on October 29, 2012, 22:58 GMT

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

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Ed 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.

  • Roger 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

  • Dummy4 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.

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