David Leggat: That's the worst bit over then, hopefully


This wasn't the way Brendon McCullum's first test as New Zealand captain was supposed to play out. Certainly not in his, or his team's eyes. As the 28th New Zealander to do the job, McCullum would have gone in with hopes, ambitions, and probably a whiff of agitation about how it would pan out.

Remembering the backdrop of Ross Taylor's dumping, and McCullum having been viewed in some quarters as not being as wholly supportive of the captain as he might have been, whatever the rights and wrongs of that perception he would have been anxious for things to go as right as possible.

So, how did he, personally, fare? For a start, he got it wrong at the toss. Dreadfully wrong, as it turned out.

His idea was that if New Zealand could see out the first part of the day - when by common consent the Newlands pitch invariably helps the seamers - his batsmen would prosper.

Essentially, McCullum backed his batting group to do the business against the world's best fast bowling trio. He wanted, in his words, to front the game.

As the day unfolded, he could have been forgiven for feeling slightly sick about it all. That was certainly the feeling of some in the New Zealand dressing room.

The pragmatic play would have been to field first, which would have served two purposes.

It would have got his team into the match as a unit, as opposed to facing an individual trial by fire against Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and, especially, Vernon Philander, where they couldn't survive more than 100 minutes.

Secondly, McCullum would have been seen to be backing his own seamers to prosper in helpful conditions. New Zealand's reading of the pitch was that it had dried noticeably, therefore would become better for batting as the day wore on.

It might have been argued as the cautious, even negative, option. But had South Africa been, say, 300 for five at stumps, New Zealand would still have been alive in the contest.

As for his batting, McCullum was beaten by a good ball from Philander in the first innings, but knuckled down and battled his way to 51 over two and a half hours in the second.

He didn't look entirely comfortable but stuck at it and got a reasonable reward. The arrival of Dean Brownlie, with his attacking intent, seemed to buoy McCullum for a time.

The hour after tea yesterday may have been the first time in the match he was actually able to enjoy himself.

The battle was being taken to the opposition and he was in the thick of it. He took some blows but kept his focus.

And he probably knew if he'd followed his attacking instincts and it had gone wrong, he'd have been panned for it.

In the field, he couldn't be accused of not trying everything.

He used all his five bowlers from both ends. They collectively let him down on the first afternoon with a below par performance.

Some of the fielding was dreadful. Put that down to the hammer blow of the morning's events, but that is a poor excuse.

It's no consolation but things can only get better.

If not, as McCullum ruefully noted after day one: "I'm in for a pretty tough little initiation."

- NZ Herald

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