David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

Cricket: The questions that still remain

By David Leggat

First the good news. New Zealand emerged from their test series against India in better shape than might have been anticipated after their ODI towelling in Bangladesh beforehand.

You can't celebrate a series defeat, although - as coach Mark "Two Draws" Greatbatch intimated ahead of the assignment against the world's No 1 team, with all their guns in decent working order - there are losses, and then there are losses.

The outlook was grim pre-tour; two draws sounded a top result at that point.

So to go into the final test at Nagpur all square was encouraging.

A shame then, that it all ended so badly. Having things go so wrong in the space of a session is nothing new for New Zealand.

Against England at Napier in March 2008, New Zealand lost nine for 65 in their first innings in a session to surrender hard-won initiative, and eventually the test, and series, by 121 runs.

Last summer, Pakistan whistled through a dreadful New Zealand first innings at the Basin Reserve, all out 99 in 36.5 overs. Again, a hefty defeat, by 141 runs.

This time respect had been earned through a couple of doughty batting displays even if New Zealand were guilty of letting one winning position slip through their fingers at Ahmedabad, when Chris Martin refound his touch to have India reeling at 15 for five - effectively 43 for five.

Nagpur was a disappointment all round. The pitch was pretty good, if not the featherbed of the first two tests.

Yet the batting lacked competence and commitment; too much of the bowling was tired. New Zealand were in trouble from 82 for six, having won the toss, and never looked like getting out from under that rock.

It should also be acknowledged that India, in the form of Rahul Dravid, MS Dhoni and earlier Gautam Gambhir and Virendar Sehwag are not by nature inclined to give suckers a chance to get off their knees.

India's spinners found more turn in the most responsive of the three test pitches than New Zealand had and the visitors got a couple of rough decisions.

That's life but imagine how much better they've had felt about themselves had they managed to complete the series undefeated. It's not as good as winning the rubber, but for now it would have done nicely.

Are we better off now than a couple of months ago? Absolutely.

Do questions still remain ahead of the arrival of Pakistan for two tests in January? You bet.

For starters:

* To McIntosh or not to McIntosh? Auckland opener Tim scored a gritty century to sit alongside scores of 0, 0, 4 and 8. The jury remains most assuredly out.

* What of Gareth Hopkins? He seemed the obvious successor to Brendon McCullum as test keeper but didn't grab his opportunity. Batting in a range of spots, including No 3 in the final innings at Nagpur when he had a perfect opening to show his capabilities, Hopkins scored 44 runs in five innings. Others are waiting in the wings.

* Where's the seam cutting edge? Over the series, New Zealand used five fast-medium bowlers. Their combined output was 788 runs for 14 wickets, an average of 56.2 apiece. Take away Chris Martin's five for 63 in the second innings at Ahmedabad and that becomes 80.5 per wicket. Tough conditions, yes. Good batsmen, certainly. But even so.

* How to keep Jesse Ryder fit. This might fall into the too hard category after his latest mishap, which has ruled him out of the five-game ODI series starting on Sunday. New Zealand needs Ryder not only functioning but fit. The way things are going, they'll have to get used to having him for two out of every three series, if they're lucky. That's not good enough.

- NZ Herald

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