Black Caps must lift their game

Batsman Jeet Raval: worked socks off in second test at the Basin Reserve. Photo: Getty Images
Batsman Jeet Raval: worked socks off in second test at the Basin Reserve. Photo: Getty Images

New Zealand, seeking to dig themselves out of the Basin Reserve pit, should look for positives out of the eight-wicket loss which might ultimately cost them the series against South Africa.

The Black Caps can cite the efforts of opener Jeet Raval and middle order batsman Henry Nicholls for a start.

Nicholls' maiden test century, in his 13th match, was a near-faultless performance. He'd come close to the ton a couple of tests ago and nailed it on the first day with savvy decision-making, and backing himself.

Raval completed his fourth test half century in his sixth test. He's averaging an encouraging 40.5.

He worked his socks off getting to 80 against a withering fast attack, showing fine judgment around his off stump and although he wasn't as secure against the left-arm spin of matchwinner Keshav Maharaj, he should take plenty of heart out of his 36/80 double.

Balanced against that some of the batting was witless and lacked heart for the fight.

Batting conditions were good on Saturday; batting smarts were sorely lacking.

For periods the bowlers did well, notably new ball pair Tim Southee and Colin de Grandhomme who had the ball moving and troubling the batsmen.

But more, and for longer periods, are the order for Seddon Park in Hamiton.

The players have been given a serious vote of confidence from selectors Mike Hesson and Gavin Larsen.

"We have faith in them, we think they are the best group of test cricketers in the country," Larsen said yesterday, the injured absentee Ross Taylor the obvious exception.

Loyalty has been shown to these players. Now they must front up.

Larsen said a raft of players were considered, then rejected for a test they must win to save the series.

In the six previous tests this home season, two each against Pakistan, Bangladesh and South Africa, New Zealand have used 16 players.

Six players have played all six tests - batsmen Raval, Tom Latham, captain Kane Williamson and Nicholls, wicketkeeper BJ Watling and fast bowler Neil Wagner.

While names were bandied about after Latham's latest failure on Saturday - 24 runs in three innings against South Africa, highlighted by a weakness around and just outside his off stump - he remains for Hamilton.

South Africa may view him as something of a walking wicket but his full test record demands some faith be placed in him. The selectors clearly don't believe there's a better option around the country.

Surely one of de Grandhomme or Jimmy Neesham will be missing in Hamilton. De Grandhomme's bowling impressed but both failed abjectly with the bat in Wellington - 23 runs from four innings between them, and with poor shots thrown in as well.

They were expected to bulk out the batting depth, but didn't.

New Zealand won their first four tests at home this season, went toe-to-toe against the formidable South Africans at Dunedin and were in charge at lunch on day two in Wellington. Then it all went wrong.

Now the selectors have effectively said: 'go out and rectify that'. Whether they're good enough, and have got the final-day Basin battering out of their system when Saturday rolls around, remains to be seen.

Suffice to say South Africa have the bit between their teeth and are exactly where they wanted to be going into the final match of their lengthy tour.

- By David Legatt

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