OPINION: It's a familiar refrain, but the switch to coloured clothing can't happen fast enough for this New Zealand team.
A shame, then, that the measure of a good cricket team is how they perform in whites over five days. As heads and shoulders slumped lower at Headingley yesterday, this team was battered, beaten and bereft against a good but hardly invincible England side.
The fearless home test series performances in March have been clouded by two of the most abject batting collapses in the space of a week. That's three for the year if you count the Cape Town horror show in January.
Captain Brendon McCullum and coach Mike Hesson rightly got the plaudits for going within a dropped catch and a heavy bail of a home series win against an overconfident England on docile pitches in March.
But any progressive test team is judged on their form on the road. New Zealand's is terrible, with eight defeats from their past nine tests away from home. Whether it's spin, bounce or swing (or all three in the past week), New Zealand's batsmen either aren't good enough, inadequately prepared or don't have the fortitude for a scrap.
Perishing for 68 against some outstanding fast bowling at Lord's when on target for a memorable test victory is one thing. Losing 9-70 on a friendly Headingley pitch against a good spinner and an inconsistent fast bowler, when the ball refused to swing for first test destroyers James Anderson and Stuart Broad, is another.
This was harder to stomach than the Lord's collapse. New Zealand knew what was coming, the pressure was off, and openers Hamish Rutherford and Peter Fulton made a flying start on a friendly Leeds pitch with a few footmarks the only concern.
Rutherford, in particular, should be haunted by the method and timing of his dismissal on the stroke of lunch. Dean Brownlie and Martin Guptill needed their bats stapled to their pads against Graeme Swann's spin.
Brendon McCullum's decision to take the gloves for the team was admirable, but ill-advised. The last thing the team needed was their captain in agony, as he was during day two despite snaring five catches. Tom Latham wasn't deemed up to the task so ODI gloveman Luke Ronchi should have been whistled in to camp a day earlier, as Vettori was.
McCullum is too low batting at seven and, restricted by his troublesome back, arrived at the crease with New Zealand in strife and only the tailenders for company. A total of 30 runs from three England test innings has been underwhelming for New Zealand's standout of the home summer.
The success stories have clearly been Trent Boult and Tim Southee, a world-class new ball pair. Kane Williamson technically looked best equipped with the bat to handle England's pacemen but hasn't kicked on to a big score.
Injuries have compounded New Zealand's woes too. Boult was brilliant with the second new ball on Sunday but is now under a cloud with a side strain that could end his tour.
The McCullum experience should hopefully persuade the skipper to give up the gloves and allow Ronchi to take over in ODIs and T20s, with he and Watling contesting the test wicketkeeper's spot for the next test series, in Bangladesh in October. Daniel Vettori would have been ideal at Headingley had his body allowed it as New Zealand's dearth of quality spinners is highlighted again.
Then there's New Zealand's preparation as they digested the lessons of Lord's.
The tourists were given the day off on what would have been day five of the first test, then it was a travel day to Leeds. Their serious pre-test shakedown on Wednesday was highlighted by Vettori's fitness test. Hesson labelled it New Zealand's one intense session of the week but it appeared remarkably laid back. Some batsmen slogged rather than grafted as the net pitches nipped around.
New Zealand's slips catching has been excellent but their ground fielding sloppy by their high standards. Fielding sessions seem to lack intensity, too.
New Zealand are rightly ranked eighth in the world in tests and they seem anchored in that spot. Bangladesh are no easy task in their own conditions, but a starting point to try and avert this awful record on the road that's dulling any progress being made at home.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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