TELFORD VICE in Wellington
MAYBE New Zealand’s players, coaches and suits have spent too much time in a particular bar on Wellington’s famed Cuba Street. It’s an Irish place called Murphy’s …
The cruel joke being played on the home side in their test series against South Africa is that whatever can go wrong is going wrong.
On Monday it was confirmed that key batsman Ross Taylor’s torn calf has ruled him out of the third test at Seddon Park in Hamilton on Saturday.
The fitness of left-arm fast bowler Trent Boult, who missed the second test with an upper leg problem, remains unconfirmed for Hamilton.
Even coach Mike Hesson is man down, with a stomach bug.
A back page opinion piece by respected senior cricket writer Mark Geenty in the Dominion Post on Monday called for Kane Williamson to be stood down as captain for the sake of his own mental wellbeing.
And all that after South Africa won by eight wickets in three days at the Basin Reserve in Wellington on Saturday to take a 1-0 lead to Hamilton.
Which would have made many wonder why Gavin Larsen announced an unchanged squad for the must-win match.
The simple answer to that, it seems, is that the Kiwis don’t have anyone better than the players currently in their dressingroom.
“We’ve got 100% faith in the fact that we’ve got what we think are the best group of test cricketers in the country,” Larsen said on Monday.
Not that he wasn’t “pretty gutted” by what he saw at the Basin on Saturday, when New Zealand were bowled out for 171 in their second innings to leave South Africa more than two days to score the 81 they needed to win.
“The way we capitulated on that last day …
“There’s a lot of work that needs to take place between now and that first ball (in Hamilton).
“We need more runs, the bowling needs to be tidied up and I just want to see a greater fight which I think is a hallmark of good Black Caps teams.
“We’ve seen a lot of that over the last two to three years.
“It wasn’t evident on that last day.”
The Kiwis stayed in the fight well to draw the first test in Dunedin, which was played on a painfully slow pitch that prompted them to select both left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner and off-spinner Jeetan Patel, who was preferred to fast bowler Tim Southee.
There was significantly more for the seamers to get excited about at the Basin, where a surface as green and grassy as the Emerald Isle itself offered assistance – particularly when the ball was new.
Morne Morkel made the most use of it to take five wickets in the match, while Vernon Philander bowled immaculately for no reward.
But the leprechaun amid the shamrocks was left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj, who claimed career-best figures of 6/40 in the second innings to finish with a match haul of 8/87.
Off-spinner Dane Piedt, who joined South African squad from Cape Town at the weekend to ensure the visitors are equipped to cover all the bases on what is expected to be a turning pitch at Seddon Park, cut to the chase.
“I didn’t expect that New Zealand would play two spinners in the first test,” Piedt said on Monday.
“When they left Tim Southee out I was also surprised.
“Bangladesh and Pakistan were here (in January and November) and they played on surfaces that were quite sporting for the seamers.”
The Kiwis’ quicks took 37 of the 39 Pakistani wickets that fell and, against Bangladesh, 34 of 36.
New Zealand won all four of those tests.
“I expected it to be the same, but obviously with the type of seam attack we have they thought they would be under pressure,” Piedt said.
“I think (New Zealand) have shot themselves in the foot.
“They didn’t back their seamers to do the job, and I thought their seamers bowled pretty well in South Africa (in a test series in August).
“But (South Africa) have come prepared to face anything and they’ve stood up to produce the goods.”
Good thing that Hamilton isn’t short on Irish pubs – by the look of things, South Africa could need somewhere to celebrate a series win next week.