When the best thing you can say about a match from New Zealand’s perspective is that we avoided an innings defeat, you know it hasn’t gone according to plan. 10 wickets is comprehensive enough anyway, but the stubbornness McCullum and O’Brien showed was pleasing in terms of staving off that ultimate humiliation.
The good thing about a loss like this is that it can’t help but force changes. The batting line-up had an off match, though one of our top six went to a dubious decision in each innings, but ultimately those guys deserve another shot. A seam bowling attack comprising Mills, O’Brien and Martin (Franklin considers himself a ‘batsman who bowls’, so let’s leave him aside) is manifestly inadequate, and definitely lacking in the variety and sheer danger to win matches at this level. All of these guys have their moments, for sure, but they’re too infrequent to pass muster, and Mills wouldn’t be playing test cricket for any other nation in the world. But this loss, like all the others on this tour, feels more like defeat at the hands of a better team, and less like a regular New Zealand implosion, than most in recent times.
McCullum was bitterly disappointed in the efforts of his fellow batsmen, apparently, and on one level that’s understandable. The two scores they managed for their 20 wickets were symmetrically mediocre, cumulatively about right for one sustained concentrated effort on a pretty good track. The top six collectively averaged 27, the bottom five 23.4. Those statistics are far too close together for comfort, and each is dominated by two scores – the centuries of Ryder and Vettori, without whom a 1o wicket loss would have been an innings defeat for the record books.
But like I say, this is an inexperienced batting line up, and one that shows great promise both individually and collectively. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this is the most exciting group of young batsmen we’ve assembled in the national side in some time.
Where the batsmen are young and full of promise, though, the bowlers are the reverse. Those three ‘pace’ (I use the term loosely) bowlers have an average age of 32, and none are on the right side of thirty. This is not to say that they should all be cast aside, but we desperately need some fresh blood. Despite his record pasting in the ODIs, surely Southee represents a better selection for the future (and present, realistically) than Mills? Jeetan Patel too was crying out for a spot, and brings some enthusiasm and tenacity to side prone to occasionally disappearing when the foot needs to be applied firmly the throat (see: Zaheer’s innings).
As I say, we were beaten by a superior cricket team, one that fought hard, took their chances and deserved the success. Short Of A Length have maintained a dignified silence on the result, thankfully for us – perhaps they’ve run out of superlatives and hobbit jokes. They’d better get some more, because there’s two (can you believe we’ve got a THREE test series happening?! What’s the world coming to!) more tests for us to struggle manfully through yet.
And if we are to avoid repeating the same result in Napier we need to bat far more doggedly and field at least one, if not two different bowlers. We will probably still lose, but at least we’ll have learned something new.
PS – Abysmal effort by the White Ferns (is that their name? It’s so hard to keep up) in the World Cup final today. Meek dismissals to awful balls, and only Doolan looked hungry for the title. But at least they made the final I guess. Better than their male counterparts have ever done.