In a way it is a bit difficult to know what to make of New Zealand’s performance in the Cape Town Test. On the one hand, it was clearly poor; they were bowled out for 45 in the first innings. But after that they actually fought back well and although there was never a chance to win the match they actually came rather closer than they ought to have to avoiding an innings defeat. The fact that they were bowled out so cheaply cannot be glossed over, but at the same time there are teams who would not have bothered to show up on the second day after being bowled out for 45 and then conceding 252-3. It’s also worth remembering that the Kiwis were up against a very good South African side who bowled Australia out for 47 on the same ground 14 months ago.
The 45 all out cannot be ignored, but I do think New Zealand would be well advised to put it out of their heads for now. It was perhaps not a freak occurrence, good bowling and poor batting will generally produce low score, but the magnitude was such that at least for now they should treat it as a one-off. I suspect that dwelling on it ahead of the next Test would be counter-productive. The bigger problem is that I don’t think they would have won the Test even without being bowled out so cheaply. The 275 they put up in the second innings was a decent effort in the circumstance, but it was effectively a first innings pitch and would still have represented a sizeable deficit had they made it in the first innings.
It is hard to say what New Zealand ought to do because they have the problem that South Africa are simply a better side and everyone knew that even coming into the series. The batting will be the obvious thing at which to look and it does need to be more disciplined (which has actually been true for some time), but it might be worth working on the bowling too. They were a bit slow to recognise the value of simply bowling line and length on that pitch (although some of that might be put down to shell-shock at what happened to the batting) and South Africa actually scored quite freely for much of the innings. The improvements on the second day meant that it wasn’t a bad bowling performance overall, but with the batting consistently suspect they can ill-afford to concede 250 runs in two sessions at any time. This is not to excuse the batting, but the problems with that are much deeper and probably cannot be fixed in between Tests. The bowling can improve though.
After being bowled out for 47 a year ago, Australia came back to win the next Test. Although New Zealand have tended to play rather better in the second Test of their recent series, Hobart and Colombo being the most notable examples, I doubt that they will manage to win in Port Elizabeth. They might, and hopefully will, make the Test interesting. But South Africa are rather better than Australia and Sri Lanka and I think they will simply be too good for the Kiwis. Even if Vernon Philander does not pull up fit for that Test I do not think that New Zealand have the batting to put up a competitive total and even if they bowl well I think South Africa will score too many for them. I had similar thoughts before Hobart and Colombo, however, and would love to be wrong again.