A bowling average of 57, and a strike rate of 109.8 doesn't flatter Doug Bracewell's performance in his last four Tests, but his team continues to emphasise the value he adds to the attack. Two days out from the second Test in Hamilton, bowling coach Dimitri Mascarenhas has said Bracewell was "probably the best bowler" in New Zealand's ranks in the first Test.
Bracewell had clinched the Dunedin game for New Zealand when he caught-and-bowled Sri Lanka's No. 10 batsman Suranga Lakmal on day five, but had otherwise been luckless, having at least two catches dropped off his bowling. Bracewell had also been New Zealand's most economical seamer in both innings, conceding just 2.18 per over, though he ended with overall match figures of 1 for 88.
"Doug's probably been the best bowler, but isn't getting all the wickets," Mascarenhas said. "That's how teamwork goes in a bowling unit. Sometimes it might be your day. As long as you keep plugging away, the next day will be his."
Captain Brendon McCullum had also said Bracewell was due to get wickets, following the Dunedin Test, drawing parallels with Tom Latham, who he believed had batted well for some time without a big score to show for it. Bracewell's big haul may come in Hamilton, where a very green pitch greeted teams on Wednesday.
"For Doug, it's all about hitting his areas as hard as he can for as long as he can," Mascarenhas said. "One of his big work-ons has been to swing the ball a bit more consistently, and he's working really hard at that. If he keeps putting the ball where he is at the moment, he's going to get a lot of wickets."
Meanwhile, Trent Boult has continued to be among the wickets despite being below his best. Boult had had a "disc-irritation" in his back during the recent tour of Australia, and had also suffered a more substantial stress-related back injury during the tour of England, in June. Mascarenhas said that these concerns may have contributed to his lack of pace in some spells, in Dunedin. Boult's speeds occasionally dipped into the mid-120 kph range in that match.
"Sometimes it's about a little bit of confidence - confidence in his body to keep going and really feel that he can push those speeds up," Mascarenhas said. "We've seen that he has pushed it up to the high 130s. Other than that he seems to be going really nicely. The ball seems to be coming out nice and it's in the right area."
Mascarenhas said New Zealand had not yet chosen their team, but with a green pitch on offer, the hosts may field a four-seamer attack again. This means Neil Wagner may be in line to play consecutive Tests, having not been in New Zealand's XI all of this year until the Dunedin match.
"He's always in and around, Wags," Mascarenhas said. "You know what you're going to get - he's going to run in and give 110%. He started off a bit nervy in the first Test, firing the ball around the shop, but he got it together and showed what he's done for New Zealand's Test cricket in the last couple of years."
Mascarenhas said Sri Lanka's top order had given off "good signs" in Dunedin, and that they would have wised up to the short-ball plan that worked well for New Zealand in patches during that match. "They've got some really talented and skillful players. It's hard work. We know how strong they are. They've lost a couple of big players, but they ones coming in are getting opportunities and hopefully are going to be taking them. It's going to be a tough Test."