David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: The worst performance I've ever seen

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In close on three decades of reporting on New Zealand cricket, today's performance was the worst these eyes have witnessed.

There have been sessions, or partial sessions, down the years for which the eyes needed to be averted, even as recently as last season.

But this was a full six and a half hours in which everything went wrong. After the batting shambles, the bowling wasn't good enough, some of the fielding schoolboyish, and that's being unkind to the youngsters.

Certainly, South Africa's formidably strong, and complementary, quick bowlers, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, can, and have, made life difficult for the best batting lineups.

In rolling New Zealand for their third worst test total, and the lowest in the last 38 years of test cricket, they turned the visitors' batting to spinach.

Philander, in particular, was unquestionably outstanding. Five wickets in your first 25 balls at a personal cost of four runs is exceptional in anyone's book. Steyn and Morkel did their part.

But New Zealand's batting was collectively wretched. Inability to cover the area on and around their off stump helped make life easier for the bowlers.

No one had the ability or mental strength to hunker down and occupy the crease. They simply never got a toehold on the game in the morning session.

Once the slide began, there was no one capable of halting the rot.

New Zealand managed a total of five fours in the innings. Later in the day, Doug Bracewell conceded 13 on his own as South Africa surged to a 200-plus lead by stumps on day one.

South African officials were fretting over whether New Zealand would be truly competitive, thinking in financial return terms over the scheduled last two days of the match.

Their worst fears were realised.

It was a truly depressing day, and with all the national anger over New Zealand Cricket's handling of the dumping of former captain Ross Taylor, came at precisely the worst possible time. That cannot be overstated, from the perspective of the team's management and the national administrators.

New Zealand's players needed to present a united front, to stand firm and fight to prove a point. Instead they melted away, like ice cream on a summer's day.

Newlands is among the world's premier grounds. The setting is superb, there wasn't a cloud in the sky. A near full house turned up.

But before the end of the day they'd tuned out. They'd hoped for a contest, and got a rout, even if their side was doing the damage. Even that can only sustain interest for so long.

''What have YOU done today?" a spectator shouted at the New Zealand players as they sheepishly headed for the bus after stumps.

Fair point.


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- NZ Herald

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