Cricket: NZ facing grim toll of losing six in row

Tim Southee. Photo by Reuters
Tim Southee. Photo by Reuters
Rarely can New Zealand have gone into a test in such a depressed state.

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 that.

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 doing.

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
Second test
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


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