New Zealand's lack of depth exposed
Three months after their last series at home against South Africa, New Zealand looked more than a little rusty against West Indies in the pair of Twenty20 matches played in Florida.
The New Zealand bowlers and fielders made an improved effort collectively to shave 32 runs off the total West Indies made the day before. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of the batsmen. New Zealand's highest score of the weekend was Rob Nicol's 32 in the first match on Saturday. Their top innings on Sunday was Daniel Flynn's 23 at No.5, as they struggled to come to grips with a pitch offering assistance to spinners. It was in stark contrast to the performance of the West Indies batsmen, Chris Gayle first and foremost, who made merry at the crease.
New Zealand were missing six key contributors - Daniel Vettori, Brendon McCullum, James Franklin, Jesse Ryder, Jacob Oram and regular captain Ross Taylor were out of the line-up for one reason or another. However, the New Zealand team management was hoping that some of the other players chosen in their place would step up. Instead, these matches exposed a lack of depth, especially in the batting.
Without McCullum, New Zealand's batting also looked one-dimensional with no one really threatening to punish the opposition with a flurry of sixes in the intimidating manner that Gayle, Kieron Pollard or Dwayne Bravo did for West Indies. New Zealand coach John Wright identified New Zealand's failures against spin and the ability of the West Indies batsmen to clear the ropes as key differences between the two sides and something that needed to be rectified by his side to compete on Sri Lankan tracks in the World Twenty20.
"With our batting we have to work really hard with our technique against spin because every time it's come on, it's slowed us down and we've lost wickets," Wright said. "So that's something we need to work cleverly at over the next week to get ourselves competitive. Then with our bowling, we just haven't been hitting the hole enough and they've been able to get under us and get over the boundary with these power-hitters. So we've got a lot of hard work."
Wright gave credit to West Indies for putting on a clinical all-round performance, but also conceded that it was difficult to adjust to conditions after such a lengthy lay-off.
"It's an enormous challenge," Wright said. "We've worked really hard here but it's obvious we've got a lot more work to do. The other thing is that you appreciate how difficult or tough West Indies are in their own conditions. It'll be interesting to see what conditions we strike in Jamaica, St. Kitts and Antigua."
Stand-in captain Kane Williamson was disappointed that the batting unit crumbled for 116 after posting 153 the day before. "It was nice to make an improvement as a unit in some ways with the bowling from yesterday but it was a shame going into the second innings not to really fire with the bat," Williamson said. "Touching on what John said it was probably that adapting to conditions where we sort of haven't done that, and at times in the subcontinent in the past we haven't as well so we have to learn quickly."
With the first of five ODIs coming up on Thursday in Jamaica, New Zealand have to find a way to regroup quickly. "I think it's a matter of all of us taking responsibility - our support staff, our players," Wright said. "We improved a little bit with our bowling today but we're still getting put over the fence so we've got to work on that aspect of our game and our batting particularly against a couple of spinners. I feel if we get in some good practice time and we get some players who are spending a little bit of time at the wicket, that will help us a lot."
Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey