Tim Southee. Photo by Reuters
Rarely can New Zealand have gone into a test in such a
Numbers can often be misleading, and be used to illustrate a
point, either good or bad.
Not these ones: played five, lost five. That's New Zealand's
test record since leaving home for the West Indies in June.
Only once before has New Zealand lost that many tests in
succession, and that was in a grim period in the mid-1950s,
and those tests were in the days when they were rare enough
to really stick in the mind, spread as they were over 22
months from January 1954.
Since late July in Antigua it has been an unremittingly
disastrous time and you would not put your shirt on much
changing at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium in Colombo when the
second test begins tomorrow night.
New Zealand have played only one test on the ground before, a
draw in which Stephen Fleming hit an unbeaten 274.
No one among the current group of batsmen looks remotely
capable of anything like that, and it's the batting where New
Zealand's concern should chiefly be focused.
The bowlers are in reasonable shape and seem to find a way to
do their job satisfactorily by one means or other.
But in those five straight losses, while opposition batsmen
have managed five centuries, New Zealand have one, by captain
Ross Taylor at Bangalore, while only three other times has a
batsman reached 70 in 10 completed test innings.
It's easy to cast about for scapegoats, but collectively
they're all in this together.
However, consider Kane Williamson's situation. No one denies
the young man's talent. He is tipped as a future leader of
the national team, possibly sooner than might have been
originally intended, too.
He made a century on debut at Ahmedabad in late 2010 and has
been an ever-present in the 17 tests since. His test average
is 29.8 and in the last five losses has reached 30 just twice
in 10 innings. They came after his fine, defiant century to
help save the Wellington test against South Africa in March.
He is overdue to produce again, although he's not alone in
Daniel Flynn's gritty half century at Galle and general
jaw-clenched demeanour at the crease bodes well. He is 27, is
averaging 28.3. Not good enough, but he's coming into what
should be his best years, is happily injury-free, which
hasn't always been the case, and needs to cash in.
Martin Guptill - average 32.8, and two hundreds in 51 top
order innings - Brendon McCullum (35.9 average) and Taylor
(41.8) are the backbone, if it can be so-called right now.
"Everyone needs to step up and learn from what happened in
Galle," seamer Tim Southee said last night. "We haven't been
up to scratch lately and everyone's a bit down.
"We can't dwell on what's happened, we can only control
what's in front of us in the next few days," said Southee.
"The guys have trained the house down in the last couple of
days. Everyone's got a bee in their bonnet and wants to do
well for the team and the people back home."
As for Sri Lanka, there is a question mark over the fitness
of the experienced Tillekaratne Dilshan, who missed the first
test. They might consider playing promising young spinner
Tharindu Kaushal ahead of Suraj Randiv, whom New Zealand
handled relatively comfortably in Galle.
New Zealand's main problems centred on the stocky left arm
spinner Rangana Herath, who took 11 wickets. Expect more spin
in this test and more problems for batsmen who haven't even
suggested they can cope for a lengthy period of time in spin.
Plenty of spin has been served up in the nets to the New
Zealand batsman, Southee said.
"We need a couple of guys to get in, then it's a lot easier
to face their spinners once you've been out [in the middle]
for a while.
"No one has applied themselves long enough to get on top of
them. If we do that, there's no reason why we can't put a big
score on board, then the bowlers continue what they've been
We're not thinking we can't compete with them."
That may be so, but it certainly looks as though they are
incapable of putting together a cohesive performance, with
all elements pulling their weight. Southee, who picked up a
niggle in the first test, is expected to be fit for tomorrow,
provided he came through a training run late last night.
Sri Lanka v NZ
Colombo, tomorrow 5.30pm
Sri Lanka: Mahela Jayawardene (c), Dimuth Karunaratne,
Tillekaratne Dilshan, Tharanga Paranavitana, Kumar
Sangakkara, Thilan Samaraweera, Dinesh Chandimal, Angelo
Matthews, Prasanna Jayawardene, Nuwan Kulasekera, Suraj
Randiv, Tharindu Kaushal, Chanaka Welegedera, Shaminda
Eranga, Dhammika Prasad, Rangana Herath.
New Zealand: (from) Ross Taylor (c), Martin Guptill, Brendon
McCullum, Kane Williamson, Daniel Flynn, James Franklin, Rob
Nicol, Kruger van Wyk, Doug Bracewell, Jeetan Patel, Todd
Astle, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult, Chris Martin.
- By David Leggat of the New Zealand Herald