New Zealand remain a reasonably competitive outfit in the limited-overs game, where their band of hard-hitting batsmen and the impact of star bowlers Shane Bond and Damien Vettori ensured two semi-final finishes in this year’s World Cups. In Test matches, however, they have regressed alarmingly. Memories of the combative side assembled by Stephen Fleming, able to draw in Australia, India, Sri Lanka and win in the West Indies, have long since faded.
Fleming has recently been replaced by Daniel Vettori though, given the quality of the side at his disposal, it is hard to overly blame him for a pair of innings defeats in South Africa.
New Zealand’s Test attack is desperately lacking in penetration when bereft of the superb, but perennially injured, Shane Bond. Vettori is a canny cricketer and fine ODI bowler, but his Test average of 38, discounting the minnows, illustrates the fact he is nothing more than a competent Test spin bowler. Elsewhere, Chris Martin can be useful in favourable conditions. But, as Jacques Kallis will testify, on flat pitches when Bond is either not playing or not at his best, the Kiwis possess a desperately unthreatening attack.
Their batting line-up is perhaps worse. Stephen Fleming is a solid Test performer, while Scott Styris is also a reasonable performer. Ross Taylor has shown immense promise in one-dayers but that is more or less that. The biggest problem, clearly, is the lack of quality opening batsmen.
New Zealand perform remarkably well for a country with such a small population in which cricket is not even the national sport. Their domestic game, as such, is probably as good as it realistically could be, though it must be depressing for fans to see Hamish Marshall and the international underachiever Craig Spearman performing well in county cricket at the expense of their international career. Financially, ODIs and Twenty20 games are much the more lucrative. But, as Vettori pointed out after their meek defeats in South Africa, to improve New Zealand simply must play more Tests. In their last 30 months, they have played 10 Tests against major opposition. Unless this is rectified, they could well find themselves slipping past the West Indies into eight spot in the Test rankings.