Bob Carter's role as New Zealand assistant cricket coach looks set for maximum scrutiny when the test series against England is reviewed.
Carter has been tasked with curing New Zealand's batting woes since August 2012. Setting aside Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson's centuries to help win the second test in Sri Lanka at the end of November, New Zealand have struggled in five consecutive overseas test series.
The team have played eight tests abroad for seven losses in that time. In only one of those tests - the second against India - did the batting produce competitive totals (365 and 248) compared with the opposition. By coincidence, Taylor made a first-innings century in that test, too.
Eight of the 16 innings in question have produced sub-200 totals, although one was the second-innings declaration at 194 for nine in the Colombo win. There have been two scores over 300.
Criticism had been tempered by what seemed genuine improvement on batsmen-friendly wickets in New Zealand for a drawn three-test series against world No2 England. Redemption has been short-lived.
The visitors could muster just 669 runs over four innings in England, the principal reason they'll remain eighth in the test rankings probably until at least 2014. Their next series is in Bangladesh during October before a home summer against West Indies and India.
New Zealand's spell without a victory in England now extends to 14 years. Hopes of such rewards turned on their heel and exited through the picket fence on the Sunday at Lord's when they were routed for 68.
Any series where bowlers Neil Wagner and Tim Southee, averaging 25 and 19 respectively, feature in the top five batting averages makes grim reading.
Taylor is the only batsman to emerge with respectability. He produced two half-centuries in team batting performances that eventually concertinaed.
The visitors lacked the skills to cope with Graeme Swann when he got near the Headingley footmarks or the England pace trio swinging, seaming and generating steepling bounce on occasion. Eyes are trained on how the batting department, led by Carter, counters such regular implosions.
A former Northamptonshire first-class representative and coach, he worked under John Bracewell in an assistant role before taking over as Canterbury coach in 2008. He took the side to the 2010-11 Plunket Shield and the final of the 2011-12 HRV Cup. The 53-year-old helped develop incumbent test squad members Peter Fulton (as a leader and reinvented him as an opening batsman), Dean Brownlie and Tom Latham. He has also coached New Zealand A sides.
Carter is affable and appears respected within the team. Hesson, like Bracewell, trusted him enough to appoint him as his right-hand man. Looking from the outside in, Carter's dedication has been noted. During practices he seems to be in a perpetual state of throwdown and the onus must always be on players to perform, but such mediocrity cannot continue. That makes Carter accountable. The batting is broken and needs fixing.
Speaking after the harrowing second test loss, Carter offered the following valid but possibly unrealistic solutions for improvement in an age of packed schedules.
"If I had a choice we'd have been here from mid-April playing all the warm-up games of years gone by, but it's not my job to organise that.
"I'm disappointed to only play two games to start the tour and one was badly affected by weather. We needed to be playing more first-class cricket.
"To have three days at Derby and most of the match rained off at Leicester was difficult, especially when you're adapting to the Duke ball.
"Mentally we need to be doing more of that to get in the right frame of mind, especially before playing good teams like England and South Africa."
Carter says New Zealand must also look at the domestic set-up.
"We could work at producing wickets that aren't necessarily quick but lack rolling, like Headingley. They are dry on top and bring spinners into the game more.
"We also need a strong 'A' team programme playing in all different conditions if we want to develop players with averages anywhere near 45."
Suggestions for Carter's head in such dire circumstances are the product of robust and passionate debate. However, if he did become an NZC scapegoat, the pickings are slim for a suitable replacement.
Batting coach contenders
- Given his success with Chennai in the Indian Premier League, Fleming is the obvious solution.
- Has obvious conflicts as manager of Brendon McCullum, Tim Southee and others.
- Personality more suited to head coach than 2I
- Coach of the IPL champions Mumbai.
- Wanted Hesson as his national selection manager when he was head coach.
- Hard to see him stepping back inside a tent he was happy to walk out of a year ago.
- New Zealand's pre-eminent cricket thinker.
- Has had success as Ross Taylor's mentor, but has alienated others.
- Is focused on regaining full health
- He knew how to bat, third on the all-time list of Sheffield Shield run-scorers with 10,643 at 44.71.
- Has ambitions to coach internationally again.
- Has no baggage within NZ cricket circles, though he is tight with John Buchanan, which is not necessarily a good thing on a political level.
- Terrific batsman and highly regarded mentor.
- Convincing him out of his current gigs with Queensland and Kings XI Punjab would be fanciful, but international gig might hold appeal as a stepping stone.
- Larrikin image and relaxed lifestyle could be seen as a positive by players, but a negative by employers
- Looming as a candidate but too early.
- Only starts his Auckland head-coaching apprenticeship this season.
- Has no experience of things going badly ... yet.