Cricket: No fear, they're only No1 in the world

By David Leggat

Disappointing T20 series in South Africa should have been much closer - and things are about to get tougher.

The good work of Martin Guptill in East London was undone by New Zealand's mediocre effort in Port Elizabeth yesterday. Photo / AP
The good work of Martin Guptill in East London was undone by New Zealand's mediocre effort in Port Elizabeth yesterday. Photo / AP

Now for the tests. New Zealand at least got a foothold in their South African tour during the T20 series, but things are about to get a whole lot harder.

The 33-run loss in the deciding T20 at Port Elizabeth yesterday was disappointing. It could, nay should, have been far closer. The good work of Martin Guptill and co at East London was undone by ordinary bowling and indecisive batting on a tricky pitch.

So attention now turns to the longest form, at which South Africa are world No1; New Zealand above only Bangladesh of the ranked test-playing nations at No8. In many respects it promises to be an uneven contest.

The second test is also at Port Elizabeth, in a couple of weeks. On the evidence of yesterday, the pitch doesn't look likely to last five days. New Zealand mightn't either.

First the T20s.

New Zealand were right in the frame when they had the hosts 63 for two at the halfway point yesterday. But Henry Davids and Justin Ontong moved things away from New Zealand with their bracing 89-run third-wicket stand, and David Miller and Farhaan Behardien applied the finishing touches with 44 off 20 deliveries. South Africa scored 116 off their last 10 overs - far too many - to reach 179 for six, as New Zealand's bowlers lost their way.

Doug Bracewell finished New Zealand's top wicket taker in the series, with five. So he was New Zealand's best bowler, right? Wrong.

He leaked 11 runs an over in the course of the series, his lengths and line all askew yesterday. The test game is his forte and perhaps he should be left to concentrate on that for the time being.

Bracewell, young Jimmy Neesham - who conceded 18 off the penultimate over, including three wides - James Franklin and even the impressive Ronnie Hira all had one bad over. Collectively it was the difference between chasing, say, 155 and 180.

That, in turn, meant the batsmen got anxious, three wickets fell for seven in 17 balls and once Guptill and Brendon McCullum in particular had gone, the game was effectively up.

"We were probably 10 per cent off throughout. Against a very good side they expose you," captain McCullum said. "But we can take some heart out of the series."

Mitchell McClenaghan, who had a strong debut series with four wickets at 19 apiece, conceded a 6.9 run rate and earned the place of the injured Tim Southee for the tests, heads the column marked "positives".

He's lively, bustled in, has decent pace and will be all the better for the past week's activities.

Hira was consistently tidy while Corey Anderson, Neesham and Colin Munro all had moments which suggest they have something to offer.

Anderson's four catches yesterday put him level with West Indian Darren Sammy and Netherlands player Peter Borren for the most outfield catches in a T20 innings.

Guptill's match-winning century at East London was the standout individual performance. He scored 125 runs in the series; McCullum's 48 next best. Not good enough. Incidentally McCullum must go back to the top of the order. Rob Nicol simply doesn't justify his place.

The fielding yesterday was impressive, in contrast to a couple of days earlier.

Had New Zealand won yesterday, imagine the fillip it would have given the tour. They did have a chance, but weren't good enough. At 53 for one in the ninth over, they were just ahead of the comparative rate. Then it all went wrong. Those are games New Zealand need to start winning.

There's a substantial change of personnel now, with Anderson, Neesham, Munro, Nicol, Derek de Boorder, Hira, Michael Bates and Nathan McCullum heading home; the Auckland Martins, Chris and Bruce, Kane Williamson, BJ Watling, Dean Brownlie, Daniel Flynn, Neil Wagner and Jeetan Patel settling in for the test leg.

First, there's a warm-up first-class game against a South African Invitation XI starting at Paarl, in the winemaking country inland from Cape Town tomorrow night (NZT).

The composition of the first test team will become clear with that selection. Expect the bulk of the test team to play there too.

When it comes to Cape Town on January 2, and the start of the first test, New Zealand must start well, whatever they do after the toss.

They need to have patience and perseverance, play smart and stay with their opponents as long as they can, get themselves into positions to create openings to put some squeeze on South Africa. It won't be easy.

No one is expecting much from them in the tests. So they have nothing to lose, and a reasonable amount of credit to gain.


Action in Sth Africa

1st test: Jan 2-6, Cape Town
2nd test: Jan 11-15, Port Elizabeth

- NZ Herald

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