Opinion: A mess of Black Caps' own making

MARK GEENTY IN CAPE TOWN
Last updated 05:00 04/01/2013

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OPINION: The aftershocks of the Ross Taylor fiasco, which looked to finally be easing, rumbled into another gear at Newlands in Cape Town yesterday.

If anyone doubted the long-term impact of Taylor's sacking on New Zealand cricket and the awful, disrespectful timing of it, then the events of day one of the first test against South Africa offered exhibits A, B and Z.

A test innings of 45, , no matter how good the opponents, happens so rarely, especially the next test after a team defeated Sri Lanka by 167 runs in their own backyard.

For starters, New Zealand could have done with their best batsman striding out at 14-2.

Instead, we assume Taylor watched on from his Hamilton living-room, grimacing along with much of the country as the collapse worsened. So shattered was Taylor by his treatment that South Africa was the last place he wanted to be over Christmas, especially alongside his executioner, coach Mike Hesson.

Hesson slipped out of the country without revisiting Taylor-gate, after the former skipper suggested the coach was stretching the truth when he claimed he always intended Taylor would retain the test captaincy.

Hesson granted the New Zealand media an audience on test eve and was polite but guarded, verging on suspicious as he glanced off innocent questions.

Taylor-gate was not mentioned.

Like it or not, Hesson will remain under serious scrutiny for the immediate future, due to a situation largely of his own making when he told Taylor three days before the first test in Galle that he wouldn't be captain when the team arrived home.

The team performed unconvincingly in a three-day warmup game against modest opposition on a flat pitch in Paarl at the weekend. They were given the day off on December 31, then launched into training the day before the test. A slips catching session was noticeable for the high number of dropped chances.

Then yesterday, the players' minds seemed elsewhere when they should have been fizzing.

Aside from their meek, inept batting, they fielded poorly and the usually sharp bowling was licorice allsorts against a powerful batting lineup. Left-armer Trent Boult, the new leader of the attack, was a different cricketer to the one in Sri Lanka as he bowled loosely and made some ground fielding blunders.

Martin Guptill is Taylor's best friend in the team and made a point of thanking him for his advice before hitting a matchwinning Twenty20 century in East London. Kane Williamson was also loyal to Taylor, and will have read the mail that new skipper Brendon McCullum wanted the now-injured Tim Southee as his deputy.

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McCullum deserved to captain his country at some stage but now seems the worst possible time.

He, too, has been affected by the fallout from Taylor-gate, the huge public support for the deposed skipper and some of the negative comment directed his way.

Intent on not showing any pleasure in recent weeks for gaining the captaincy which he had coveted, McCullum was stern-faced on match eve, a far cry from his usual chatty, friendly self.

He inspected the grassy Newlands pitch and after it was mown, took the gamble of batting first on winning the toss.

It was a statement of intent from McCullum but he almost tried too hard to make it. Batting first was the bold, risky call; bowling first on a pitch they knew would seam about early on was safe and much lower risk.

It came back to bite McCullum.

Now the batsmen's confidence is seriously wobbly and they have a second innings here, then another test in Port Elizabeth to try to recover against their tormentors - Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.

Amid the background of the past six weeks, and yesterday's Cape Town carnage, this test series can't be over quick enough.

And it will be quick.

- Fairfax Media

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