New Zealand's first innings batting has undergone its share of scrutiny in the lead-up to the final test of the dead rubber series against India starting Saturday.
When they have played away in the past 12 months, the scores are acceptable. Excluding the 15-2 in the washed out draw with South Africa, they have averaged 373-run totals in eight innings as part of two wins, one draw and five losses. Remove two 500-plus declarations in the victories over Zimbabwe and the landscape reverts to an average of 304.
That appears sound, especially seeing they have never been dismissed for less than 202 runs away. The problem lies in it being sub-standard compared to their opposition. They were behind on the first innings in all but the 624 against Australia at Perth - and those anomalous Zimbabwe tests. Before the tour to Australia they had not suffered defeat in a record seven series; now they have lost four of their last six.
Examples of inadequate first innings include the two tests of this series. Scores of 262 and 204 are no reason to incite panic or expect wholesale changes, but they suggest the top order is not providing the necessary base for bowlers to mark out their run-ups with gusto. New Zealand have been 56 runs (Kanpur) and 112 runs (Kolkata) behind. Given they've batted fourth on both occasions, staying in contention has proved impossible once India extended their lead.
Batting coach Craig McMillan acknowledged the problem.
"The reality is neither of those scores [in India] are good enough, even if India won both tosses. You can't give the opposition a lead of 100-plus.
"A lot of our chats have been about the first 15 balls. Some other countries you can come out to bat and the ball's not doing much. You can face a straight one.
"Here the ball is moving constantly through the 80 overs so your footwork and mental adjustment at the start of an innings is crucial, and we've lost three to four quick wickets [on occasion] because of those challenges."
One theory is that players' confidence is threatened without the comfort they can go to the Decision Review System, now a commonplace scenario outside Indian tests to insure against howlers.
"We've got to play straight and trust our defence and have a positive mindset," stand-in captain Ross Taylor said in reference to the lack of DRS in the second test loss.
"It's easy to get insular over here. You've got to trust your game plan."
On the plus side yesterday, McMillan delivered about half an hour of throwdowns to Kane Williamson who looks set to recover from his viral illness in time for the match.
"He hasn't picked up a bat for close to a week. He had a nice, easy day hitting balls and getting his body back into the rigours of batting again," McMillan said.
"The focus was not on footwork or technique. It was just about swinging the bat, getting some power back in his arms and feeling the timing return.
"You can see the colour coming back into his face. It was certainly encouraging."
McMillan also revealed his advice for Martin Guptill, who is struggling at opener.
"Keep leaving [the ball]. He's not far off. He hasn't scored the weight of runs he's after and he's made some mistakes but that happens from time to time.
"He's also been unlucky, like getting one that bounced off his elbow into the stumps. My message to him is don't get too down on yourself. He's due."