Dylan Cleaver on sport
Sport analysis and comment from Dylan Cleaver

Midweek Fixture: Black Caps heading from boom to bust

By Dylan Cleaver

Martin Guptill scored 15 runs in three innings against South Africa. Photo /Getty
Martin Guptill scored 15 runs in three innings against South Africa. Photo /Getty

Don't look now, but that's New Zealand's third woeful test performance in succession against genuine test-class opposition.

With a tricky tour to India to follow, Mike Hesson's misfiring team sits on the precipice of a full-blown five-day recession.

The even-keeled coach has serious issues at opener, he has issues at No 5, he has injury-enforced issues with balance, he has issues with his spinners and, most of all, he has issues he has avoided for too long with the new-ball attack.

To summarise: Hesson has issues.

New Zealand were dreadful at the Basin Reserve against the weakest Australian team to tour here in 30 years. They were really bad in Christchurch a week later. Two club-standard tests against Zimbabwe and a rainout later, they capitulated against South Africa, losing the test and the short series by 204 runs.

It wasn't actually that close.

The problem wasn't even the batting. As strange as it sounds, totals of 214 and 195 were about right on that Centurion pitch, although the way they got there was unconventional.

The only part of this test that defies any rational explanation was South Africa getting to 481-8. Bowling coach Shane Jurgensen can equivocate all he likes about bad luck but that was about 300 runs too many on that wicket.

Forget the stats-padding exercise in the second innings, when Trent Boult and Tim Southee came to life; the test was well and truly lost by then and South Africa were batting with the sole purpose of giving their bowlers a rest. The wickets might count, but only for posterity.

Even taking into account the nice little boost they've received from his second innings 3-46, Southee's 2016 test numbers are downright unhelpful.

He's taken 14 test wickets while conceding 646 runs in 211 overs. He hasn't been tight, he hasn't been quick and he hasn't been penetrative. It's a trifecta of ineffectiveness.

Trent Boult has endured his struggles as well, though he has at least shown flashes of his pre- back injury pace in Africa. Still, his 16 wickets this year have come at a costly 38.6.

That's your two vaunted opening bowlers, the tone-setters, right there.

There are better minds than mine who question why Southee gets handed the new ball as a right. He has enough credit in the bank to retain his place in the XI, but New Zealand need to mix up how they configure their attack: it would be insanity to keep doing the same thing while expecting different results.

Hesson needs to hand the new ball to somebody different. Maybe Adam Milne if fit, or Matt Henry, or even Wagner - whose 27 test wickets for the calendar year at an average of 18.6 and an economy rate of 2.6 stand in stark contrast to his more celebrated teammates - and allow Southee the opportunity to reinvent himself as a first-change bowler.

We haven't even had the opportunity to drill deep into the other issues surrounding the team, but in short:

Martin Guptill continues to perplex in white clothing;

Henry Nicholls is mimicking the classic John Parker move of notching a decent score just often enough to stave off the axe (though to be fair, Parker had 36 tests worth of opportunity as opposed to Nicholls' six);

Without Corey Anderson or Jimmy Neesham as the seam-bowling allrounder at No 6, the side is unbalanced and has a tail that starts at No 8;

Mitchell Santner's first-class numbers never suggested he was test-ready (batting average 29, bowling 47), now he's going to be asked to take his game to a place where they dine out on green spinners.

Hesson played a big role in resurrecting New Zealand's cricket fortunes, he now has an even bigger role to play to halt the recession.

***

It is hard to remember a test match with as much post-match static as the second and final meaningful Bledisloe Cup test for 2016.

Niggly Australia.

Woeful Australia.

Angry Australia.

Out-of-line Australia.

Somehow, despite the All Blacks winning the combined two-match mini-series - the third Bledisloe at Eden Park in October appeals as nothing more than an exhibition match - by a combined score of 71-17 and a merged try-count of 10-1, the Wallabies have pilfered the headlines like Kieran Read steals lineout ball.

Much of it is New Zealand's doing. Not satisfied with hammering Australia on the field, we now need to rub Michael Cheika's stub-nose into the muck to remind him of just how much his team stinks.

It appears calculated. A subtle comment here, a not-so-subtle comment there, this All Black camp has played upon the obvious volatility of the Coach of the Year masterfully. It started in June, when Steve Hansen, tired of beating up the Welsh, turned his glance across the Tasman and reminded Australia that Eddie Jones was winning all the mind games; that the smaller, older Australian had returned to his homeland and "bullied" the larger, younger one around.

Like a trout lazily sunning itself in calm waters, Cheika lunged for the fat fly on the surface.

"That's a pretty shallow sort of view... and he knows better than that," Cheika said. "It is easy to kick blokes when they're down. We are down, but we will be getting back up, don't worry about that."

But we do worry about that... apparently.

Australia have had six cracks at winning test matches dating back to October 31, 2015, and have lost the lot - three to New Zealand, three to England. Phrased a slightly more pointed way - three to Hansen, three to Jones.

Cue more reminders from Hansen about how the Good Ship Wallaby was sailing on the limits of the plimsoll line.

"Australian rugby is competing with other sports that might just be ahead of them at the moment, from a fan point of view," he said. "We want a strong Southern Hemisphere base for the game, we want our closest neighbours to be strong."

The only way this could have come across as more condescending would have been if Hansen said it while gently stroking Cheika's head as he lay curled up in his lap.

It's all wildly entertaining, on this side of the Tassie at least, and good grist for the media mill.

But there is a tipping point, which we are fast approaching, when this Cheika-baiting becomes something else, something a little more discomfiting.

Wrote Aristotle, an elegant five-eighth for the Old Athenians: "As for the pleasure in hubris, its cause is this: naive men think that by ill-treating others they make their own superiority the greater."

The All Blacks are an exceptional side at the moment. Australia are not. It would make more sense to celebrate the former rather than the latter.

THE WEEK IN MEDIA ...

A worthwhile profile on Australian superbrat Nick Kyrgios.

This is an interesting look into the old East German doping system through the story of the wonderfully named, tragically fated weightlifter Gerd Bonk.

Missed this Ryan Lochte analysis at the time but it is still worth a read.

This is not the most riveting subject but I have long held a pet hate about the paucity of relevant cricket stats. We're still stuck in the often meaningless metrics of average and aggregate (see column above for recent evidence). It is good to hear, then, that baseball best stat wranglers are starting to look at applying their models to cricket.

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