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Batting ineptitude sinks New Zealand

New Zealand's first dismissal of the day epitomised their morning and foreshadowed the ineptitude to follow. Nuwan Kulasekara had been bringing the ball in, as he often does, but there was none of the hooping swing the New Zealand bowlers had enjoyed the previous morning, just a little movement off the seam. Martin Guptill had not scored a run in his first seven balls, and he played the eighth expecting it to nip back, but it continued straight and clattered into middle and off. He glared at the pitch like it had just spat a pit viper at him, but it was not the fault of the surface. He had simply failed to get his front foot forward and missed a straight delivery. It was a technical failing.

The pitch can't be blamed for the remaining eight wickets either. Kane Williamson was perhaps unlucky to be caught down the leg side, but the other batsmen were neither technically capable of handling Rangana Herath's spin, nor did they possess the psychological fortitude to survive regardless. Balls didn't go through the surface, nor did they fizz off the wicket as they might have if the Test had gone five days. There was plenty of turn, but as Brendon McCullum affirmed on day one, that is to be expected in Sri Lanka.

In India, New Zealand had lost 31 wickets to R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha in two Tests, and 13 wickets to the spinners in Galle suggest forcefully that they must address their failings against spin. They had spoken of being positive and not allowing the slow bowlers to settle, but their means of pursuing that ambition seemed exclusively limited to hitting out. Picking gaps and rotating the strike have long been the bedrock of effective strategy against spin, but they eluded New Zealand in both innings.

Perhaps the only statistic New Zealand can find solace in, is that England surrendered even more wickets to spin at this venue eight months ago. But unless they are harsh on themselves after this performance, it is difficult to see them reacting in time for the second Test.

"Herath has got 45 wickets this year and they all haven't been against us, so he has got wickets against other teams as well," New Zealand captain Ross Taylor said after the match. "In both innings he dominated our batting line up. Leading to the next game we need to come up with a plan on how we are going to combat Herath.

"We've been in this situation before, and we came back and played a lot better against spin after spin dominated us in India. We've got a couple more days to try and get our process and thinking around it. We don't want to dwell what's happened in the past, but we have to get on with it."

Spin was not their only shortcoming in Galle, with five top-order wickets having fallen cheaply to seam bowling, ensuring the middle order was cornered into reticence against Herath in each innings. They had collapsed in a similar fashion in the third innings against South Africa in Hamilton earlier this year, and might have lost the next Test at the Basin too, were it not for rain that had washed out almost a day of play.

The confidence among New Zealand's batsmen cannot be high, having failed against all types of bowling, and they must now regroup for the second Test, having lost five matches in a row - their worst run in 67 years.

"That is not a nice stat to hear," Taylor said. "We have to put it right as soon as possible. It's going to be a difficult time in Colombo. We need to go at the Sri Lankans' score and our ability to take wickets will be crucial as well in the next Test."

It is difficult to see New Zealand leveling the series, but they will be playing on one of the most seam-friendly pitches on the subcontinent at P Sara Oval, and perhaps that will spur them to a better performance. New Zealand were once a dangerous side when cornered, but there is no fight in their game anymore. They must rediscover it, because on Galle's evidence, they will not win matches with their technique.