It’s only the third day of the first Test between Australia and New Zealand, but I have been struck by how imprecise New Zealand have been. They have talented players. Vettori is the obvious example, but Jesse Ryder, Chris Martin and Brendan McCullum are all legitimately of international quality as well. They don’t look like they are playing as well as they ought to however. I use the word ‘imprecise’ because they seem to be sharp enough, just missing slightly.
On the first day they won the toss and batted first in conditions that were not ideal for batting, but neither were they unduly tricky. They are conditions with which opening batsmen ought to be familiar, it is their job to see them off after all, but they played foolishly. Both of their openers threw their wickets away playing rash shots away from the body. Whilst there are times in which such shots are acceptable, the first morning of a Test match is certainly not amongst them. All of New Zealand’s top order except Williamson got themselves out in the same way, all of them needlessly. There were some demons in the pitch, yes, but the fact that Brownlie made 77 not out shows that it was not a minefield. The Australian attack is inexperienced and sensible batting would have brought rewards, but they collectively lost their heads.
Their shortcomings are also visible in the field, albeit not as spectacularly. They have had a couple of excellent chances to put a fragile Australian batting order under pressure, but they have let the opportunities slip away. Their bowling has been just a bit too erratic. Ponting in particular looked very shaky early on in his innings, but New Zealand could not get the ball and the fieldsmen in the right places to take advantage. At other times they have dropped catches, including a fairly straightforward one off Clarke when a wicket would have put them almost on level terms. It went begging and now the match is starting to slip away.
The dropped catches aside, New Zealand’s errors appear to be more mental than physical, the rushes of blood leading to collapses especially. It might be tempting for them to say that even good sides sometimes suffer collapses and even good sides sometimes fail to convert pressure with the ball into wickets and even good sides sometimes drop catches and all that would be true. But the best sides are the sides that do so rarely. New Zealand are doing so for the second Test in a row after almost losing to Zimbabwe. It is something at which their coach must work. They aren’t going to become world beaters with the talent they have, but the talent they have ought to do better than what we are seeing.