' />

New Zealand's capitulation to India in this week's third test after two spirited draws again raises questions about the side's mental fragility.

As so often happens, the Black Caps matched it with stronger opposition (the best-ranked team in the world) for sustained periods - a session, a day, a test - but not a series.

It is revealing that the last test series New Zealand won against a team other than Bangladesh was against the West Indies in 2005-06. The struggle for consistent performances remain.

Former Australian captain and coach Bob Simpson has plenty of experience mentoring an underperforming side.

The 74-year-old coached Australia from 1986-96 and took them from mediocrity - they hadn't won a test series in two years after the simultaneous retirements of Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh in 1984 - to World Cup winners (1987) and victors in four straight Ashes series (1989-95).

Simpson argues the Black Caps could do worse than build from their relative success in the shorter formats.

"The best way to improve [an international team] is to work on their limited overs cricket first, that's what I did when I started," he says. "Sharpening those skills allows you to play professionally all the time.

"You need to attack as long as possible. The trick is getting buy-in from everyone. You can't afford to have any lost souls in an international cricket team."

Rather than emphasis on man-management and mental skills, Simpson says he would dwell on the fundamentals.

"In batting, focus on what you can do rather than play shots you can't.

"The hardest thing is judging the length [of the ball]. Whenever I watch New Zealand there seems to be a default technique of thrusting the front foot forward."

Unfortunately, that is a hard habit to break for many Black Caps who will have grown up playing on wickets where getting forward early was the difference between a long innings or a spell sulking on the boundary after getting fired lbw on a low, seaming track. There was evidence in India to suggest Brendon McCullum, Jesse Ryder and Kane Williamson were mastering elements of back-foot play.

"Running between the wickets is crucial, too," Simpson says. "The great sides of the past were invariably the teams that ran the most singles in limited overs matches. It's about placing the ball where you want it - and not overhitting it."

Simpson admires New Zealand's capacity to bowl tight in limited overs matches, but with a disclaimer.

"Nothing can substitute line and length to an orthodox field. I think you can analyse teams too much and set fields that give away runs too easily.

"I wonder sometimes if New Zealand produce too many short-of-a-length bowlers who take the swinging ball out of the game. You can't underestimate the value of fielding. Once you've got a great fielding side, bowlers always look better."

John Buchanan is another successful Australian coach who took the team at their peak in 1999 - as the best test and one-day side in the world - and was largely able to sustain that performance through until 2007. He oversaw their second and third consecutive World Cup victories as well as three out of four Ashes series and Australia's first test series win in India (2004) in 35 years.

Buchanan acknowledges he had some supreme talent but says it takes more to perform over such a prolonged period.

"It's not just about skills, it's about character," he says. "You want your players to be their own best coach and make good decisions on the field on behalf of the team. To do that they have to understand their own game inside out.

"It's about buddying people up, producing smart training schedules, learning how to travel and getting one-on-one coaching.

"If you want a high-performance team, all those things have to align otherwise your words become hollow."

That is the challenge for Black Caps performance director Roger Mortimer. He is emulating a Buchanan-type plan but the players are struggling to respond consistently, as witnessed last week in India and last month in Bangladesh.

It's what Buchanan experienced in his time against New Zealand teams.

"On the field, the Kiwis were hard to beat because certain countries have an extra need to compete against each other [like a local derby]. But I always thought New Zealand cricket struggled with a lack of depth.

"They always relied on key individuals like Daniel Vettori, Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor. If their key players didn't perform it put a lot of onus on a line-up that were trying their best but were a little underskilled. That was always the case.

"New Zealand could compete with you for a while, but could they compete for a longer period? That's why when they played limited overs they were far more dangerous than in tests. The depth of their players' skills found them wanting in the longer form against us."