Diehard devotees deserve more from Black Caps

SHINING LIGHT: New Zealand's Tim Southee celebrates taking the wicket of India's captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
SHINING LIGHT: New Zealand's Tim Southee celebrates taking the wicket of India's captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

It's a measure of where New Zealand's cricketers now sit on the sporting radar that a five-wicket test defeat inside four days can be greeted with positive noises.

After the Hyderabad horror show, the Black Caps couldn't slump much lower in the wake of one of their worst tours to the West Indies where they lost eight from nine. Preparation for both tours was poor. There was no pre-West Indies team camp because NZC claimed budget constraints, then director of cricket John Buchanan said in a radio interview the playing group wanted a few days at home rather than jet straight to India for a warmup match.

Diehard cricket fans follow the team with thick skins and rose-tinted glasses, with eternal hope for those rare upsets like a test win in Australia or eliminating South Africa from the World Cup. What they won't stomach is a meek capitulation from an ill-prepared side as was the case in the first test.

Finally, the penny dropped in Bangalore, a gripping test and one which restored some faith. Watching the bowlers bustle in and the fielders swoop and snarl as they sensed an upset victory, was how it should be. For that, and his inspired selection of Tim Southee, new coach Mike Hesson gets an early tick.

All they lacked was a fourth innings hero like Doug Bracewell in Hobart. Bracewell's radar was awry, Southee was spent from his first innings heroics and Trent Boult and Jeetan Patel bowled well without luck. The better team won but they got a fright along the way.

Realistically, this is a limited New Zealand test team with promising youngsters but no world-class performers, befitting their world ranking of No 8. They need a bowling performance like Southee's outstanding 7-64 and two centuries from their top-order to threaten the top sides. The latter continues to be a headache.

If one of the underperforming batsmen had kicked on to three figures in the second innings, victory probably would have been theirs. The batting order is correct but Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson had a top score of 53 among them. Having taken 18 wickets between them in Hyderabad, India's spinners Ravi Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha combined for 13 in Bangalore.

Daniel Flynn is trying hard but struggling against spin while James Franklin played India's tweakers ably but played a poor shot in the second innings. The lack of challengers mean the microscope goes on the incumbents, yet again, with senior men McCullum and Ross Taylor needing to lead the way. Heard this before?

Losing is a habit and for all the creditable efforts of Southee, Taylor, Trent Boult, Kruger Van Wyk and Jeetan Patel, it's now four on the trot with the prospect of more to come. Two tests in the spinners haven of Sri Lanka, two against the No 1 test team in South Africa, then five tests (three home, two away) against No 2 England is a daunting prospect. It's difficult to see where a win presents among those nine between now and May.

Mercifully, the focus shifts to New Zealand's best discipline, Twenty20. It's where McCullum, Guptill, Taylor and Daniel Vettori are the most effective and confident. New Zealand will be well-prepared, field well and can comfortably make the semifinals if they get on a roll.

After the winter cricket fans have endured, it's the least they deserve.

The Dominion Post