Cricket: Black Caps face testing times

By Michael Brown

Brendon McCullum of New Zealand drives one into the waiting hands of Justin Ontong of South Africa. Photo / Getty Images
Brendon McCullum of New Zealand drives one into the waiting hands of Justin Ontong of South Africa. Photo / Getty Images

Now New Zealand have got the 'easy' bit of their tour out of the way, the really hard work looms with the two-test cricket series against the world's No 1 side about to start.

If that seems a daunting prospect, it is. It's even more so with New Zealand bereft of some of their best players in Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder (both unavailable) and Tim Southee and Daniel Vettori (both injured).

The Black Caps should be well beaten by a powerful Proteas lineup. Most New Zealand fans acknowledge that but they want to at least see some fight.

There was some evidence of that in the three-match Twenty20 series, which wrapped up in Port Elizabeth this morning (NZT). South Africa won the deciding match by 33 runs to claim the series 2-1 after posting an imposing 179 for six in their 20 overs and the visitors couldn't establish any momentum in their innings, eventually finishing on 146-9 in their 20 overs.

It was a disappointing way to finish the Twenty20 series after the thrilling conclusion to the second game when Martin Guptill smacked a four off the last ball of the match to not only score an unbeaten century but also win the game for New Zealand. But it was considerably better than what they dished up in the first game when they were embarrassingly rolled for just 86 in a heavy defeat.

The Black Caps' best chance on tour was always expected in the limited overs matches where one or two contributions can prove the difference. They were also facing a South African side almost as inexperienced as themselves.

New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum admitted the "right team" won the Twenty20 series but he was reasonably satisfied with what his side produced after the debacle in Durban in the first match.

"It's disappointing because we came into this match with high hopes," McCullum said. "We obviously built up some good momentum after the East London game. For a fair amount of the game I thought we competed well but I guess some of those bigger moments South Africa grabbed and we were found wanting at times.

"The collective message [to the team] will be that, while we didn't get the results we wanted, we took some significant strides in this series. I think that's the really key thing, to try to build it from the inside out.

"If you look at the hard facts, we lost 2-1 but I think the progression we have made as a team and the introduction of some of the new guys into international cricket... is a positive we can glean. We have seen some very good performances from guys new to international cricket like Mitchell McClenaghan, so that's obviously encouraging."

McClenaghan (2-24) was again lively as he made life difficult for the South African top order but, other than Ronnie Hira (1-24), the New Zealand bowlers were too loose and allowed the home side to launch a platform and then plunder 116 off the last 10 overs.

McCullum (25 off 22) and Guptill (24 off 20) looked good early as they put on 47 for the second wicket but the innings stuttered as wickets fell regularly.

Kane Williamson, Chris Martin, Dean Brownlie, Daniel Flynn, Jeetan Patel, BJ Watling, Neil Wagner and Bruce Martin all looked on after arriving in South Africa a couple of days ago and they will have some time to acclimatise in a three-day match against a South African XI starting in Paarl on Friday night (NZT). The first test starts in Cape Town on January 2.

"It's going to be a huge challenge for us against the No 1 [test] team but we go in with high expectations," McCullum said.

- APNZ

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