Cricket: Consistency's the next big test

By David Leggat

Sri Lanka test series draw offers some hope for next engagement in South Africa

The good bits roughly balanced the bad and that's how New Zealand Cricket should assess the tour to Sri Lanka.

And considering the state of things a week ago, they'll happily settle for that. The 1-1 test series result was a satisfactory outcome. Some pieces in the puzzle are falling into place. Gaining consistency of performance, however, remains a work in progress.

The first test was desperately disappointing; the second redressed the balance and did offer some encouragement for South Africa. That will present a vastly different challenge, less about how New Zealand's batsmen cope with spin than the hostility and pace of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and co. The South African batting will be significantly stronger than the disappointing Sri Lankan offerings too.

There was a period where the Sri Lankan tour had the potential to dip below even the dreadful one win-eight loss trip to the West Indies in mid-year. The ODIs were a watery 3-0 loss, and the first test went down the plughole in less than three days.

That New Zealand pulled themselves together, found some character and bounced back in Colombo is much to their credit.

The question remains as to whether they can perform consistently at a higher plane than they have for most of the past year.

Colombo provided just the third win over a major test nation - leave aside Bangladesh and Zimbabwe from this category - since beating Pakistan in Dunedin in three years ago. That's simply not good enough.

However, credit where it's due, as Sri Lanka's magnanimous captain Mahela Jayawardene made clear after the second test.

"They stuck to their guns and played really good cricket from day one and we were behind the 8-ball," he said. "The bowlers kept asking questions and creating opportunities."

Indeed, new-ball pair Tim Southee and Trent Boult deserve to put their feet up for a few days. Swing, seam and a healthy dose of hostility - less in the overt sense, more in the work with the ball - made this a fine series for the Northern Districts pair.

Southee, since returning after missing the first test in India in August, has taken 20 wickets in three tests, including a career-best seven for 64 at Bangalore. He is now the country's leading fast-medium bowler.

The rest of the summer, against top-class South African and English batsmen, will show how well he steps up to the seam spearhead role.

Boult has found his feet at the top level and the ability to bring the ball in late to the righthanders and slide it across makes him a genuine threat.

Legspinner Todd Astle made a good fist of his debut, got his maiden wicket and made important runs in the second innings at a point where New Zealand were wobbling when trying to set a target.

Jeetan Patel had a royal chance in the second innings, but went wicketless. If Dan Vettori is fit for South Africa, and a second spinner is required, Astle could yet throw out a decent challenge to the Wellington offspinner. He gives the ball a rip, can bat and has bundles of enthusiasm.

Wicketkeeper Kruger van Wyk had a poor batting test in Colombo. BJ Watling can make his case when he takes the gloves for Northern Districts against Canterbury tomorrow.

The batting remains exasperating. Ross Taylor's performance in Colombo enhanced the statistics which show his batting appears better for the burden of captaincy.

Kane Williamson and Daniel Flynn showed they have the required stickability in the first innings. Williamson is averaging 50 or more every fourth test innings. Back-to-back fifties from Flynn in the series showed his best qualities.

Martin Guptill had no worthwhile preparation and it showed; Brendon McCullum was up and down, and got one umpiring shocker; while New Zealand got nothing from No 6. Good spin bowling remains a mystery to several of them.

Still, Taylor was right to note wins away from home don't happen often. Colombo was just the 28th compared to 44 at home. "We need to enjoy this moment and hopefully get some momentum from it," he said.

- NZ Herald

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