New Zealand showed plenty of resilience and resolve during the first Test in Dunedin, but a brittle middle order and an underpowered bowling attack must up their game in Hamilton, says New Zealand correspondent James Henderson.
The ‘great’ New Zealand weather (not disimilar to the ‘Great British’ weather, in case you’re wondering) rained down on Dunedin, scuppering South Africa’s victory push and ensuring that England remain top of the Test cricketing pile at the ICC rankings cut-off date on April 1.
Proteas skipper Graeme Smith showed his displeasure at the decision to play in one of New Zealand’s wettest cities, yet the poor conditions simply confirmed what was a fair result.
After missing the chance to land a knockout blow by dismissing the tourists for 238 in the first innings, the Black Caps scrapped and clawed their way to parity by the end of the day 2 and remained on the back foot for the remainder of the Test.
Despite this, they continued the fight until umpires Billy Doctrove and Aleem Dar halted proceedings on the final day, with their dogged resistance offering comfort ahead of tomorrow’s second rubber.
Ross Taylor will be acutely aware, however, that a big heart and unrelenting determination will probably not be enough at the second time of asking, against a South Africa side who now have four days of cricket under their belts and will be surely be sharper in Hamilton.
He will also being thinking long and hard about how the Black Caps can find 20 wickets. Chris Martin led and marshalled a positive bowling unit, but a lack of penetration led to only 15 wickets on a strip that offered assistance.
Tim Southee has been replaced with Mark Gillespie after a dismal showing with bat as well as ball in the South Island, but it is expected that Central Districts leg-spinner Tarun Nethula will make his Test debut alongside Daniel Vettori.
As for the batting, Taylor led from the front, passing 40 twice along with vice-captain Brendon McCullum. Both were out rather softly in the first innings, however, suggesting there is still room for improvement when it comes to powers of concentration.
All too often we see New Zealanders establish a credible platform before giving it away, and inevitably – if one or two players fail to ‘go big’ – the end result is an inadequate total.
That said, the Black Caps’ second innings showing was much improved, and Dale Steyn at co. will be aware that a lack of intensity at Seddon Park could lead to a further boost in confidence for a batting order still trying gel at the highest level.
Other positives for the Kiwis included the successful debut of Kruger van Wyk with the gloves. After impressing with the bat,when taking control of a crucial partnership with Doug Bracewell in the first innings, he helped defend an exposed tail-end and clawed his side level.
If BJ Watling is fit for the Third Test in Wellington, van Wyk will need a big knock to retain his place, but the Black Caps can be happy to finally have some depth in what has been a problematic area in recent times.
If top order can blunt the new ball threat of Steyn and the impressive Vernon Philander, this depth will have a chance to prosper; if not, they may be blown away all too easily again.
New Zealand are a side with plenty of talent, but they are yet to find a way to make hard runs or take wickets in all conditions. They will need patience, persistence, but most importantly inspiration if they are to hold their own in Hamilton.
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