Batsmen cop friendly fire in buildup

MARK GEENTY
Last updated 05:00 08/01/2013

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Giant soup ladles, tennis rackets and a grumpy coach hurling a ball from 15 paces away.

This was no ordinary training session; yet again it was no ordinary performance from New Zealand in the first cricket test against South Africa.

At a deserted Newlands, where the Capetonians had packed in and delighted at their side's work for three days, some beaten Kiwis slogged it out over the back fence for three hours-plus in the summer heat and paid their penance for surrendering with more than two days to spare.

The long-handled plastic implements that resemble soup ladles hurl the ball from a great height, mimicking Morne Morkel's trajectory.

Trainer Chris Donaldson took up the ladle, then did his best Roger Federer impression by serving a tennis ball flat out to fully padded-up batsmen in the other net.

Batting coach Bob Carter, whose career throw-down count must be nearing the million, trundled in and hurled the red ball, time after time.

The idea is that batsmen get used to the speed and reaction time required against Dale Steyn and his fast-bowling cohorts, the best in the business.

All eyes have been on coach Mike Hesson of late, but this was a serious training session. Little was left to chance in this serious post-match workout as the batsmen went through the wringer.

It wasn't quite a cage fight, even if a zealous security guard told the curious New Zealand media this was "an enclosed training session" and ushered them away to peer through the fence.

The test pace attack of Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Chris Martin and James Franklin clutched a new ball each and marked their run-ups.

They went head to head with Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson and Daniel Flynn, batting in pairs and taking their turns to bob and weave as Hesson stood as makeshift umpire.

The bouncers flew. No-one was pinned but McCullum was sat on his backside by Bracewell, and was later applying an ice pack to his arm.

This suggested the test pace attack would remain unchanged, although Neil Wagner got his chance later and looked sharp, as did Mitchell McClenaghan, impressive but less likely to be considered.

Spinner Jeetan Patel appears most at risk among the bowlers, with Bruce Martin challenging hard.

Guptill, who has scored 40 runs from his last six test innings, was the coach's special project. Hesson cranked up the bowling machine and fed it for an eternity and Guptill got into line and ducked and weaved.

Hesson earlier hinted Guptill may go down the order and he may need a respite, leaving Flynn to potentially get a promotion. BJ Watling looks at home as an opener, too, but has the wicketkeeping gloves and that seems a tough ask.

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Watling and Dean Brownlie, the best-performed New Zealand batsmen in Cape Town, also kept in the groove with throw downs and a net.

Watling, who faced 151 balls for 42 in the second innings, and showed excellent composure and solid defence, said the training was just what they needed.

"There's a lot more bouncers bowled by the quicks, and blokes are coming out of their crease and trying to simulate as much as possible the speeds out there and the bounce. There's definitely a noticeable lift in intensity over the last two days so we're looking to be better for it," he said.

The New Zealand players have today off, with some attending Jacques Kallis' charity golf day.

The Port Elizabeth pitch is expected to be slower, and New Zealand may not have to deal with Newlands man of the match Vernon Philander, who is in doubt with a tight hamstring.

"It's definitely a mental game out there. You've got to adjust to the conditions and I'd imagine PE might be a bit different," Watling said.

"It's about recognising what's going on and finding ways to score. It might not bounce as much and you might have to play off the front foot a bit more."

- Fairfax Media

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