OPINION: When Ross Taylor was unceremoniously dumped as Black Caps captain, it was on the premise Brendon McCullum would be a better leader than the man who had just presided over a rare away test victory against Sri Lanka.
Having forced out one of the few players showing consistent form, it was therefore incumbent on New Zealand Cricket and the new captain to prove that the turmoil into which the Black Caps had been plunged was justified.
In light of the results so far on the tour to South Africa, it was not.
It is true that the Proteas are one of the giants of world cricket, and presently the No 1-ranked test side. The Black Caps undeniably went into the series as the underdogs in all forms of the game to be played, but the New Zealand cricket public had a right to expect that they would at least be competitive.
Instead, fewer than 20 overs into the first test in Newlands, Kiwi fans found themselves praying for Cape Town to be inundated with 4 days of torrential rain. By the end of the first day's play, sports writers were combing the record books to rank the Black Caps' 45 all out in the table of worst-ever test scores and the TAB had judiciously suspended betting on a South African victory.
Kiwi fans will not have failed to notice that a significant factor in the collapse was McCullum's decision to bat first on a wicket on which bowling was the sounder option. So much for his supposedly superior cricket brain.
Fans will also have noted that South Africa were able to post 252 runs for three wickets on the first day, in an innings which started before lunch, on the same wicket.
They will also have despaired at the Black Caps' abysmal performance in the first Twenty20 - one of the forms of the game in which McCullum was touted as having a better understanding than Taylor. All out for 86 off 18.2 overs, a score South Africa chased down in 73 balls. The Black Caps took the second match, but lost the third.
The Black Caps managed to salvage a sliver of pride in their second innings in the test, with the maiden century to Dean Brownlie the only bright spot in an otherwise dismal performance. But on present form, there is little prospect of the side troubling their hosts in the second test starting on Friday or the three-match one-day series to follow.
The disastrous performances underscore the real problem confronting the Black Caps. Fussing over who should captain a team that has persistently failed to perform was a sideshow to the main issue. Brownlie's fighting effort aside, batsmen are not getting runs and bowlers are not taking wickets.
McCullum made little secret of his desire for the captain's job. Having won the prize, he must now show he can meld a side that can last the five days of a test match, or at the very least make their opponents bat twice.
If he fails, people will stop watching, and the cricketing world's powerhouses will become even more reluctant than they already are to waste their time playing New Zealand. They, at least, have no desire to cheat their fans by subjecting them to one-sided contests.
- © Fairfax NZ News