Cricket: NZ batsmen fail to measure up

By Mark Geenty

New Zealand cricket captain Daniel Vettori will keep faith in his young batting lineup after another test defeat as they eye a huge task to square the series against Australia in Adelaide.

It was all over inside the first hour on day four at the Gabba in Brisbane yesterday as New Zealand lost their last four wickets for 17, dismissed for 177 to slump to a 149-run defeat in the first test.

No 4 Ross Taylor backed up his first innings top score of 40 with a stroke-laden 75 in the second, but when he was caught behind off man-of-the-match Mitchell Johnson any slim New Zealand hopes evaporated.

They required a Gabba test record run chase of 327 to win, 91 more than the most successful chase at the ground by Australia against West Indies in 1951-52.

While the pitch was still good for batting, they couldn't cope with the swing and seam of Johnson (five for 39) and Stuart Clark (four for 43) as they collapsed to 49 for four then 143 for six at stumps on day three. It was New Zealand's fifth loss from their past six tests against Australia after they'd eyeballed their first win in Australia since 1985.

While batsman Peter Fulton and spinner Jeetan Patel enter contention for Friday's second and final test, with allrounder Grant Elliott almost certain to miss out, Vettori said there was no quick fix to the top-six.

"Historically, we've always struggled with the batting, but I look at Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder, Jamie How, Brendon McCullum, Daniel Flynn. They are very good players who once they've played 40 test matches in those positions, can hopefully average 40 and be very good players," Vettori said.

"But at the moment we are working with very young players."

McCullum has 38 test caps while the rest of the top-six have 41 amongst them, with Ryder and Flynn showing encouraging signs without big scores at the Gabba.

Vettori said the traditionally batter-friendly Adelaide Oval was "a good starting point" for improvement.

Vice-captain McCullum's spot at No 5 in the order is becoming troublesome, with scores of eight and three at the Gabba dropping his average to 14.18 from 11 test innings against Australia.

But Vettori said he wanted to persevere with the combative McCullum at five.

"It is one of those mid-series that is tough to change but you are always re-investigating things.

"When you make changes you want them to work and initially Brendon did really well in England.

"Obviously, he is frustrated at his results since then but he is the sort of guy who wants responsibility and he wants those challenges."

Since record test runscorer Stephen Fleming's retirement in March, New Zealand's test side have produced completed innings of 277, 381, 114, 123 and 232 against England, 171 against Bangladesh, and their Brisbane double of 156 and 177.

Vettori felt the difference at the Gabba was Michael Clarke's first innings of 98 and Simon Katich's unbeaten 131 in the second, after he was dropped on 70 and 86.

New Zealand had their chances, notably when they won the toss and reduced Australia to 23 for three thanks to Tim Southee, then 115 for six in their second innings thanks to Chris Martin.

It will get harder in Adelaide, where Australia will be better for the run and there will be less assistance for New Zealand's pacemen.

"To not play our best cricket this week and still win convincingly is a good way to bounce back after a tough tour of India," Australian captain Ricky Ponting said.

"We've got some room for improvement and, hopefully, that comes next week in Adelaide."

- NZPA

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