New Zealand have succumbed to another abject Test defeat to add to all their other abject Test defeats. South Africa are in all-conquering form and fear no one, especially not against a side who only won 3 Tests in 2012 (against Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and that amazing Test against Australia at Hobart). They were bowled out for 45 in the first innings in the first Test against the Proteas but the South African bowlers were in such a mood that against a better more experienced batting line-up they would still have bowled them out for under 200. Although they fought hard in the second innings, things proceeded along with an air of desperate inevitability in the first innings of the recently concluded second Test. Yet again they put up a fight in the second innings, taking the match to an improbably fourth day before collapsing from 200-5 to 2011 all out and the management will have to pick through the bones of another hefty loss. All this happens with the very public feud between Ross Taylor and Michael Hesson still fresh in the memory.
Despite all this what I can’t help but find slightly baffling is the fact that for a while the New Zealand team have been on the end of some thrashings yet they do possess some pretty decent players in all formats of the game. Ross Taylor apart, they have Martin Guptill who is a solid campaigner in all formats even though a Test average of just over 30 kind of goes against this notion. He is also part of the reason New Zealand are a more than handy limited overs team when it comes to international competitions. They should once again be competitive in the 2015 World Cup which they will co-host along with Australia. Brendon McCullum coming in at number 2 in theory could do the same job at the top of the order that Tillekeratne Dilshan does for Sri Lanka or Virender Sehwag does/did for India. Although when it comes to T20 cricket, I’d have him in my team in front of either of those two players. Next they have Kane Williamson who at 22 is one of the best young talents in World Cricket. He has played 20 Tests – 10 fewer than Guptill has played who is 4 years his senior – and already has 3 Test centuries to his name. The highest of which (135) came in a 262 run stand with Ross Taylor in advance of New Zealand’s excellent win at the P Sara Oval against SL in November 2012. BJ Watling showed in the most recent Test that he has the mental aptitude to forge himself a solid career in Test cricket, even though he is 27 years-old. After showing years of promise in domestic cricket (List A batting average of just over 41 to show for it), he was drafted into the international side and over the last couple of years or so has started to show the talent the selectors always knew he had, and the mentality that evaded previous Kiwi batting talents such as Jamie How and Aaron Redmond. Colin Munro only made his debut in the last Test vs South Africa so there isn’t much to say about him other than the fact that he has a First-Class batting average of 53.47 (high score of 267* off 252 balls) and a bowling average of 31. It should also be pointed out that Jesse Ryder could come back into the fold and New Zealand-born Australian Luke Ronchi is on the verge of becoming eligible for the country of his birth after he last played ODI cricket for Australia in 2008. At 31 he might not be around for alot of time but he might add a bit more bite to a batting line up that has been susceptible to collapse.
But arguably New Zealand’s best feature is a very promising pace bowling unit. Young pacemen are all the range across the Tasman but the Kiwis have a promising trio of bowlers to boot. Tim Southee has always been a tremendous talent but has only really come to realize his potential over the last few years in between injuries. Allan Donald once said that he could become the best swing bowlers in the world, and to be honest to White Lightning, he isn’t far off as it is. You only really have Dale Steyn and James Anderson in front of him along with maybe Vernon Philander but I would argue that he perhaps needs to stick around for as long as Southee has. That and the fact that Southee is still only 24 whereas Philander was a few years older when he was first called up to the South Africa side. For a while it looked like Southee would have to shoulder the burden of being New Zealand’s main bowler backed up ably by the ever-willing and hard-working Chris Martin, Kyle Mills, Jacob Oram and James Franklin before he had his epiphany and reinvented himself as a top to middle-order batsman. But recently we have seen the emergence of Doug Bracewell and Trent Boult. Bracewell is an all-rounder but pulled Australian pants down by takin 6-40 in that epic finale at Hobart. Trent Boult is only 23 and can only get better but can boast a current Test bowling average of 31.43. With James Franklin all but cutting down on his bowling duties, New Zealand could really use a pacey left-arm fast-medium bowler and in Boult it looks as if they have found one. If they can keep these three fit, then they should pose a problem for most batting line-ups around the world on seaming wickets. They can always rely on Chris Martin, Kyle Mills and Neil Wagner as a backup option.
For a long time they have relied on Daniel Vettori to be their best bowler, best batsman and captain. But his injury problems mean others have to step up. In the spin bowling department they have Jeetan Patel with his solid if not particularly threatening off-break. Nathan McCullum has played over 40 ODIs and T20s yet is still to make his Test debut. Todd Astle, Ronnie Hira, Tarun Nethula and Bruce Martin could all make viable claims for the place of frontline spinner but it is hard to see any of them displacing the quiet genius of Vettori.
Overall there is a lot to be pessimistic about in New Zealand Cricket. In the aftermath of the captaincy being taken away from Ross Taylor, Martin Crowe penned a brilliantly despondent piece of the state of NZ cricket for Cricinfo. Along with Glen Turner, Martin Crowe was appointed as a sort of talent-scout by the NZC in order to survey the domestic circuit and bring names of young talent to the selectors of the national team. However in protest of Ross Taylor’s sacking Crowe, never one to hide his true emotions, not only quit his position as talent scout but also burnt his New Zealand cricket blazer, tweeting:
Burnt NZ cricket blazer Dec 7, 2012. RIP
So all is far from right behind the scenes as well as on the field. It might be argued that New Zealand’s struggles doesn’t really affect the cricket world in the same way that India’s struggles or even the decline of the West Indian team, but cricket can ill-afford another whipping boy in the Test format. And I think if the authorities got their act together and implemented a period of reconciliation to bring back the likes of Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder and get them focused then perhaps results might come. I do not think that that this can be achieved with Michael Hesson in place as the head coach. I feel he needs to get moved along and if they have to go abroad to find another coach then that might be what they should do. Either way, what cannot be denied is that New Zealand have a crop of cricketers either in or coming into their mid-twenties who could provide the backbone for if not a strong team then a competitive team for years to come in all formats. This debacle in South Africa should not be taken too seriously as South Africa are in the different league at this moment. By all means learn the lessons and right the wrongs but do not go dropping players out of hand because the likes of Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla are in golden form and would have feasted on pretty much any bowling attack or batting lineup any of the Test sides could throw at them at this moment in time and that should always be kept in mind when reviewing New Zealand’s two most recent losses.