‘When those pressure points come up you have to have individuals stand up and grab them’ © Getty Images
New Zealand will spend two days debriefing and soul-searching as they try to prevent their season ending with a whimper following the three-day thrashing at the Basin Reserve.
Five days and a session of toe-to-toe cricket – throughout the Dunedin game and until lunch on the second day in Wellington – unravelled with alarming haste against South Africa. No wonder Kane Williamson looked bemused and not a little careworn, as he tried to explain it away in the bowels of the Basin on Saturday evening.
New Zealand – both the players and management – have been reluctant to say that the visit of South Africa would define their season. But if they do not put in a better performance at Seddon Park starting on Saturday the last few weeks will certainly influence how their 2016-17 campaign is judged.
They were favourites against Pakistan and Bangladesh, duly completing victories in all series against them, although had to overcome a first-innings total of 595 for 8 to beat Bangladesh in the Wellington Test. They regained the Chappell-Hadlee trophy 2-0 when Australia were missing some key players but the series across the Tasman was a one-sided affair.
So far against South Africa, the T20 – albeit a one-off – was a walkover for the visitors, the one-day series was an oscillating affair, but two awful batting displays in Wellington and Auckland cost New Zealand, and now they are 1-0 down in the Tests after collapsing for 171.
It should be noted that this was only New Zealand’s fourth Test defeat at home in 22 matches – dating back to South Africa’s previous visit here in 2012 when they won a match in similar fashion in Hamilton courtesy of a New Zealand batting implosion – although two of those losses came last year in the previous marquee series, against Australia.
There is no disgrace in losing, but the manner of this defeat will be a concern and no doubt added to angst felt by Williamson and the other New Zealand representatives put up to explain what happened. In place of Mike Hesson, who had not recovered from a stomach bug which forced him to watch the third day from his hotel, it was batting coach Craig McMillan who attempted a mixture of stern but measured assessment.
“Yesterday was a terrible day and to lose within three days was unacceptable. The group is hurting and disappointed but it’s something we have to acknowledge,” he said. “It’s important to remember, while yesterday wasn’t good, it’s only just over a week ago that we performed pretty well in that first Test. We need to get back to that standard and bounce back quickly for Hamilton.”
In an echo of what Williamson and Hesson said after the batting collapses in the one-day series, the inability to soak up pressure during key phases of the game was at the forefront. Having recovered to be 217 for 5 on the opening day in Wellington, they collapsed to the part-time offspin of JP Duminy; in the middle of the second day – after having South Africa 94 for 6 – Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma added 160 before the last-wicket pair then added 57 to treble the lead and, with the deficit almost wiped out, they handed Keshav Maharaj two wickets in an over.
“When those pressure points come up you have to have individuals stand up and grab them,” McMillan said. “Even that last-wicket partnership between Philander and Morkel which pushed the lead from 30 to 80 was quite a telling point – those two guys stood up and that’s what we need our guys to do. “
There is unlikely to be much ripping up of the script from New Zealand. Ross Taylor (calf) and Trent Boult (groin) will join up with the squad in Hamilton to have their injuries assessed – the latter appears more likely to be fit – and legspinner Ish Sodhi could be added, when the squad is named on Tuesday, in place of seamer Matt Henry.
Tom Latham‘s form is an increasing problem – his poor run in one-day cricket now affecting his Test returns which, overall, are very solid – but in reality, there is not a vast amount more the selectors can do. A myriad of names have been bandied around over the last 24 hours – from Dean Brownlie (who is injured) and George Worker, to Colin Munro and Tom Bruce – but there is not a specialist opener demanding inclusion. Only the return of Taylor would really strengthen the middle order.
“The selection panel, one of their key traits has been loyalty and I think that’s served us well,” McMillan said. “I’m sure there’ll be plenty of discussions between Mike Hesson and [selector] Gavin Larsen over the next day or so. There are a lot of domestic players going really well around the country but I firmly believe within our group we have the best players to do well.
“When you have a performance like that, those sorts of discussions have to be had. We’ve got the best players in New Zealand in the squad and in Dunedin they showed they’re good enough to compete with South Africa.”
They did compete in Dunedin, but a lot can change in a few days. Or as Wellington showed, even a few hours.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo