By Niall Anderson in Melbourne
The Black Caps batsmen have been presented with the ultimate challenge by the Australian fast bowlers, and they might not be able to overcome it.
Having mustered just 725 runs in four innings in Australia, the Black Caps have had no answers to the probing questions asked by the Australian seamers, who have regularly ripped through the top order and left the visitors in dire positions.
"Australia have three bowlers that come in and bowl 145km/h, and a spinner that's taken over 300 test wickets, so you're always up against it, you don't get a reprieve – that's the hard thing for us," Black Caps coach Gary Stead analysed.
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By going up against three bowlers of express pace and bounce – Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and James Pattinson – many of the Black Caps batsmen have been given an unprecedented task, having never faced that type of speed – for that length of time – in their careers so far.
"We do have some surfaces that bounce at home, but finding guys who are 6'3" and can bowl at 145+ is not easy, and I can assure you that if we had five or six of them in line then they'd be in consideration. It's just the reality – we're a small cricketing nation, we fight hard, and that's all we can continue to keep doing," Stead reasoned.
"We try hard to work with the guys to say 'How can we develop you?'. We have plans in place, we've worked hard with the tail as well about how we try and eke out more runs. But unless you're doing that day-in day-out for a long period of time, change is quite difficult to see in a very short period. But that's our challenge – to try and find those ways to have the players getting comfortable being uncomfortable, because that's what Australia do to us all the time."
However, the lack of experience at facing this type of bowling – and subsequent lack of results – has left Stead wondering if New Zealand's cricketing pathways need further work.
"We'll work and look at the developmental areas of our game, through our first-class program and our A program, and it's certainly always something that's discussed – how can we develop people that can be successful all around the world? Australia no doubt is one of the toughest places in the world to come and win.
"It's not the first time we've been beaten and it probably won't be the last either. Our ethos is to find small improvements, because you don't find massive gains all of a sudden at this level. For us it's about chipping away, and doing the simple things as well as we can."
Unfortunately for Stead and the Black Caps, based on the nature of their first two defeats, a massive gain is exactly what will be required to claim victory in Sydney.