25 Jan 2019

Black Caps batsmen need to step up

1:44 pm on 25 January 2019

You suspect Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav and company have been sleeping all right.

Indian bowler Mohammed Shami with Martin Guptill in the background.

Indian bowler Mohammed Shami celebrates the wicket of Martin Guptill. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

There must be some destinations, and batting line-ups, that keep India's white-ball bowlers awake at night, but New Zealand doesn't appear one of them.

Bowlers the cricket world over hate being embarrassed. They fear that big bloke, with the big bat, who takes them for 30 in a One-Day International over.

Clive Lloyd, who captained the West Indies to two Cricket World Cup titles, was talking the Black Caps up the other day. Speaking to English media, Lloyd nominated New Zealand as one of the genuine contenders when the world cup takes place later this year.

That's a view that would definitely be echoed here, if just a little more quietly in the wake of Wednesday's eight wicket defeat to India in Napier.

New Zealand were bowled out for just 157, having won the toss and batted, and responded post-match by blaming the pitch. They'd expected the traditional McLean Park belter, captain Kane Williamson said, but were instead presented with something more "two-paced.''

By the time they'd sussed that out, it was too late.

Batsmen obsess over pitches. They study them and stroke them, cast their mind forward to how much pace and bounce they'll produce and what a competitive total might be.

The Black Caps thought there were runs in that pitch and, when they didn't score them, fell back on the tired cliché about the ball coming through at different paces.

What that 157 really highlighted was that if Williamson or Ross Taylor don't make substantial scores, there's a reasonable chance the team will be dismissed cheaply.

There's also very little threat coming from the middle order while Jimmy Neesham recovers from a hamstring strain and Colin de Grandhomme carries the drinks.

Starting at the top, Martin Guptill and Colin Munro can do spectacular things on their day.

Munro is never going to be pleasant on the eye, but he can hit the ball hard and into weird areas.

New Zealand have treated him very well, allowing him to fail and not stifling his strengths. At some point, though, he has to deliver or else the solidity of Tom Latham will be required instead.

Guptill's batting is often beautiful, but he can be a man for the smaller occasion. Present him with a modest attack and he'll make mincemeat of them. His challenge is to get big runs on a big stage, against a big team.

Williamson and Taylor are all-time New Zealand greats and then there's the supporting cast we had at McLean Park of Latham, Henry Nicholls, Mitchell Santner and Doug Bracewell.

Blackcaps' Colin Munro walks from the field after being caught during the first ODI cricket match between New Zealand and Sri Lanka.

Colin Munro needs to prove his worth this series according to Hamish Bidwell. Photo: PhotoSport

Some very tidy, talented players there, but none who are keeping bowlers up at night.

Sri Lanka's Thisara Perera is not among world cricket's elite batsmen, but he has a great eye, huge strength and provides a practical, and very recent, example of what power hitting can do to an opponent.

His ODI scores of 140 and 80, then 43 in the one-off Twenty20 clash, were ultimately for nought. The rest of Sri Lanka's batsmen didn't do enough to support Perera and all three games were lost.

But, boy, did he put a fright through the Black Caps' bowling attack.

That innings of 140, from 74 balls, didn't just freak the bowlers out either.

The team's catching turned to custard, such was the anxiety caused by seeing the ball regularly clubbed out of the park.

Is Latham is any danger of doing what Perera did? What about Nicholls? Santner? Bracewell?

We're told that with the exception of Bracewell, who will face challenges from de Grandhomme and Neesham for his spot, that Wednesday's line-up in Napier was New Zealand's best.

That might well be true.

India are here for various reasons but, from a Cricket World Cup perspective, it's to expose frailties in the Black Caps' game.

Certainly better now, than in June and July.

We all want the team to succeed; they're an admirable bunch, who play the game in a spirit that reflects well on the nation, but that doesn't mean they're infallible.

The batsmen badly need to impose themselves, starting with game two of the series in Mount Maunganui on Saturday.

* Hamish Bidwell is a contributor to Radio New Zealand. He has previously worked at The Northern Advocate, Gisborne Herald, Hawke's Bay Today, The Press, The Dominion Post and Stuff.