Cricket: Black Caps in a spin over tweakers

New Zealand cricket coach Mike Hesson has a philosophy of using local expertise to supplement his coaching team when on tour and the most useful addition might now be a sports psychologist.

In yesterday's second innings against Sri Lanka, when they were rolled for just 118, the batsmen were seemingly undone as much by their own heads as the spin of Rangana Herath, who finished with match figures of 11-108.

They appear to get themselves into a spin when facing tweakers - their latest capitulation is not a recent phenomenon - and yesterday it was almost as if they were inventing ways to get out.

The nature of some of the dismissals was reckless, and players of yesteryear like Andrew Jones and Mark Richardson, who rarely gave away their wickets, would have been left shaking more than their heads.

The current crop don't play express pace particularly well but their attempts to combat spin are even more disastrous and they have now been undone by spin in the last five tests, losing all five.

It started with West Indies off-spinner Sunil Narine (12 wickets in 2-0 series defeat), continued as Ravichandran Ashwin (18 wickets) and Pragyan Ojha (13 wickets) handed India a 2-0 series win and they are now being bamboozled by Herath.

The immediate future doesn't bode well given the series heads to Colombo where the wicket is expected to turn more than it did in Galle.

Perhaps the most distasteful thing about the latest defeat is the fact they were well in the match for the first two days. The bowlers, led superbly by Tim Southee, put them in a good position only for the batsmen to once again let them down.

"You have to give credit to Sri Lanka," captain Ross Taylor said. "When they were in trouble at 5-50 Mahela [Jayawardene] and Angelo Mathews batted very well and Herath, once again, dominated our batting lineup.

"Leading into the next game, we need to come up with a plan to combat Herath. I thought we played [off-spinner Suraj] Randiv pretty well but our methods, the way we are going to rotate the strike and score and negate [Herath's] ability to take wickets will be crucial in the next match."

Their mental approach to Herath will be just as crucial. New Zealand will have a couple more days than planned in the nets where they need to come up with a plan but they also need to be able to overcome the obvious psychological barriers.

Former New Zealand allrounder and selector Dion Nash said New Zealand's top order "don't have the skills" to compete at the moment but it wasn't impossible to turn it around.

"If Mark Richardson, who was effectively a bowler who batted 10, can turn himself over the course of his career into an international-class opening batsman through application and strong mental application and practice, it sort of tells us really that that's what's required," Nash said.

"It's about thinking smart and adapting, having a bit of gumption and a little bit of luck now and then as well."

Unfortunately, New Zealand are not awash with options. Rob Nicol is the only batting alternative on tour - why they couldn't keep BJ Watling, who was clearly in good nick in the one-dayers, on tour is mystifying - and, Jesse Ryder aside, there are few in New Zealand with compelling cases.

"We struggled in our first test match against India and came back and we will do everything we possibly can in the next five days leading up to the next test match," Taylor said.

They were much improved in that second test against India - they lost the first by an innings and 115 runs and the second by five wickets but posted 365 in their first turn at bat - and will need to be again. Otherwise they risk losing the few fans still backing them.

- additional reporting Cameron McMillan

- APNZ

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