Even when the bails wouldn't fall in Auckland, or the rain wouldn't stop in Dunedin, New Zealand coach Mike Hesson remained a believer.
So he seemed the least surprised of anyone when the dam burst spectacularly for the team's first test win of 2013, over the West Indies in Wellington last week. He might have doubted their luck, particularly in the near misses against England in Auckland and in the first test of this series, but not their methods.
"When the ball bounced on Matt Prior's stumps [against England in March] and ricocheted quite a distance there were a few of us looking at each other going ‘what have we done here'. Then in Dunedin there were a few things that occurred when you wondered ‘when is it going to turn'," Hesson said.
"For it to turn so quickly [on Friday] was satisfaction for the guys because we've put in a lot of work, bowled a lot of overs in Bangladesh and it just hasn't quite worked for us. We're all pretty delighted."
So delighted was the coach with the innings and 73 run victory, which ended New Zealand's run of 10 winless tests, that he sent his players home for the scheduled fourth and fifth days. Meanwhile, West Indies coach Ottis Gibson hauled his side back on to the Basin Reserve yesterday for an open wicket practice, with a mountain of patch-up work to do.
After two nights in their own beds, the Black Caps reassemble in Hamilton tomorrow to prepare for the third test starting on Thursday. The Christmas present is New Zealand's first series win at home against a top-eight team since 2006, also against West Indies.
Captain Brendon McCullum labelled Wellington near enough to the perfect test as the beer and bubbly flowed and the team song, Black and White, got its first airing since November 2012. Hesson concurred, but believed it was only a matter of time after some of the cricket they'd played in some agonising draws.
"It's not a win in isolation; it's not like we've all of a sudden got one from somewhere and we're over the moon. It's something we've built up over a period of time. We know we haven't nailed it yet but it's another step forward for this team," Hesson said.
All the focus was on Trent Boult, and rightly so, after one of the great New Zealand test spells where he took nine wickets on a fabulous Friday, and ended with 10-80. He was backed up by aggressive post-lunch bursts from Tim Southee and Neil Wagner, and some key first innings wickets from Corey Anderson.
But Hesson enjoyed the batting as much, a discipline which provided him headaches with spectacular collapses in South Africa and England. Every member of the top-seven now has a test century in 2013, and big first innings totals are becoming the norm rather than the exception. The last two were satisfying after being sent in to bat in bowler-friendly conditions, albeit against a hugely disappointing West Indies pace attack.
"We could have been bowled out for 150 on that surface so Ross Taylor's innings was critical, then all the partnerships and the tail kept wagging. To get over 400 on a surface that kept offering something was hugely important for us.
"We try and get over 400 in the first innings and try to create some pressure and get ahead in the game and try to hold it. We've done that four tests in a row now and we'll keep trying to do that every game."
Taylor is at the peak of his powers, with 362 runs in three innings and a world-class test average of 46.52. His calmness and composure at the crease impressed his coach the most, as he described the Dunedin double-century as a masterclass.
Hesson's only concern for Hamilton was an array of niggles among his troops. He wouldn't label them, but said medical staff would have a close look before confirming an unchanged 13.
McCullum's back injury remains troublesome but is being managed, and the chance for a test series win at home will dull the pain.
"He still throws himself around in the field and puts himself in compromising positions. So far so good.
"We'd only rest him if his back was at a point where he couldn't play. That could well occur. He's made some good progress. He's always a bit stiff but it doesn't seem to affect his movement too much."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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