Struggling New Zealand must overcome mental barriers
In the 82 years since New Zealand became a Test-playing nation, they have only once lost six Tests in a row. After the loss in Galle that marks New Zealand's worst streak since 1955, talkback radio at home has been ablaze with acerbic denunciations, and the resounding suggestion that this side is the worst the country has ever produced. If they fail once more in the second Test starting in Colombo on Sunday, New Zealand will be without a defence. They are on a precipice fashioned from their own ineptitude, and even their most ardent fans will be tempted to follow the lead of so many before them, and switch off.
The blame for Galle lies squarely on the shoulders of the batsmen, who could not negotiate Rangana Herath's left-arm spin on a track that had not yet begun breaking for the spinners. Herath had turn from the first day but no fizz and bounce, and New Zealand's demise seemed all the meeker as they succumbed in succession to him on the third morning. Earlier in the year, New Zealand had made Zimbabwe look like a high school side in Napier, when they took 16 wickets in one day. Through their own bewildered approach to handling the turning ball in Galle, they have cast themselves in a similar light.
The batsmen were staggeringly short of confidence in the first Test and quite aside from their poor technique, they must now regroup mentally from their worst total this year if they are to compete at the P Sara Oval. For large portions of their innings in Galle, the visitors were circumspect to the point of being passive, allowing Herath to bowl as combatively as he pleased and employ as aggressive a field as he could convince his captain to appoint. Ross Taylor had spoken of being positive against spin, but they will need to bear those words out with more backbone, while being careful to avoid the brainless hitting that has marooned them in the past.
They must wring out every drop of positivity they can muster, and perhaps two additional days to clear their heads after the three-day loss will have helped them address their shortcomings better. "The guys have trained the house down in the last couple of days and everyone has sort of got a bee in their bonnet and wants to do well not only for the team, but for the people back home," Tim Southee said. "One thing over here you're never short of net-bowlers, so there is plenty of spin being thrown down to the boys at training so hopefully with the training they can take that out into the middle and allot us some confidence to show what we are actually capable of."
New Zealand's bowlers can be pleased with their work in the first Test, having sparked a top-order collapse on day two and prevented the hosts from achieving a sizeable first-innings lead, the likes of which they are accustomed to in Galle. The quicks will likely enjoy the pace and bounce in the P Sara pitch, and they can at least take encouragement from the fact that Sri Lanka have lost their two most recent matches at the ground.
"We just need a couple of guys to get in and it gets a lot easier once you've been out in the middle for a while. No one has applied themselves for long enough to get on top of them so if we can do that there's no reason why we can't put a big score on the board and then the bowlers can continue what they've been doing."
The P Sara however, is a result wicket. Since 1993, only one match played there has been a draw, and victories have largely been founded upon strong totals, often in the first innings. After this tour, New Zealand go to South Africa to tackle one of the best attacks in the world - one that has already inflicted a three-day defeat on them this year. Unless there is rain, New Zealand will likely have to push for a win in Colombo to snap their ignominious streak. If they don't, an extension of their torture may await them in December, and with the batsmen's confidence eroding with each humiliating loss, their names emblazoned in infamy.
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka