OPINION: Like an annoying blowfly, the Ross Taylor saga won't stop buzzing around the New Zealand team, but coach Mike Hesson denies it had anything to do with their first test capitulation against South Africa.
It was back to the nets for the Black Caps on a warm afternoon at Newlands, which local officials hoped would be packed out on the scheduled fourth day, but instead was deserted.
Another torrid net session was scheduled for early today as the New Zealand batsmen try to replicate their South African tormentors in the hope of competing in Friday's second test in Port Elizabeth.
Taylor's absence continues to jar, especially after their dismissal for 45 on day one. They desperately need him, but the team's best batsman remains at home in Hamilton, with no date set for his cricketing return, after he withdrew from the tour in the wake of his axing as skipper, and the events that surrounded it.
A more upbeat Hesson was relaxed about revisiting the issue, but wasn't buying the theory that Taylor's absence played a part in their awful first day.
"I don't think it did. It had an effect leading into the test and we discussed that as a group then we moved on. No doubt Ross batting at four would have been useful for us and that was Ross' decision and we respect that," Hesson said.
"It'd be nice to have him back at some stage, but for Dean Brownlie [who scored 109] to come in and slot into that spot, it could be the making of his career."
While wanting Taylor back, there was no use dwelling on the issue when bigger immediate worries were at hand, Hesson said.
"The decision has been made. We got on this tour and we acknowledged the issues that we faced and we're moving on. We were all disappointed about the first test result and as a support staff and a coach we've got a lot of work to do and we're not shying away from it."
That starts with getting an unchanged New Zealand top six in some kind of fit shape to take on South Africa's pace attack from innings one, rather than innings two at Newlands when they stepped up a gear after the horse had bolted.
Bowlers would be given free licence to attack in the nets and the batsmen were on high alert as the coaches try to replicate the threat of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and man of the match Vernon Philander, who is in doubt for Port Elizabeth with a recurrence of a hamstring strain.
"It's a highly competitive situation, more bouncers, a more hostile approach from our bowlers which is what we're going to need and ultimately that will help our batters as well.
"Also work on the [bowling] machines that come pretty quick and it's pretty uncomfortable so you get that level of anxiety that you know you're going to face out there," Hesson said.
While the top six will remain unchanged, Hesson hinted the order might need some tinkering. Opener Martin Guptill is struggling in test cricket with 118 runs from his last 10 innings, including one run from two bats here.
While the only backup batsman, Colin Munro, won't be required, there is potential to shift Guptill down the order, given his struggles against the swinging and seaming deliveries, and promote perhaps Daniel Flynn to the opening spot he filled against South Africa last March in Wellington.
"I don't see huge changes in that top six but we've got to look at how we construct that top six as to whether we make some movement there," Hesson said.
"Martin is a fine player and he's done very well but when the ball swings at the top you've got to be really strong in your decisionmaking and if you make a minor error that can be exposed.
"Certainly we're confident that Martin's a good enough player to get past that."
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