7 Dec 2016

Black Caps look beaten before games even start

4:04 pm on 7 December 2016

Opinion - The Australian cricket commentators bleat on about how good their True Blue heroes are and how if an opposition is ever so slightly off their game, the "Awesome Aussies" will win.

And when a team is miles off? Well, we saw what happens in the first two Chappell-Hadlee matches this week. It's not pretty.

Kane Williamson heads back to the dressing room after being dismissed in the second ODi cricket match between the Black Caps and Australia.

Kane Williamson heads back to the dressing room after being dismissed in the second ODI cricket match between the Black Caps and Australia. Photo: PhotoSport

A 68-run loss in the first game of the three-match series was followed last night by a 116-run thrashing. While there is no shame in losing to a strong Australian side playing good cricket at home, the Black Caps were so far from their best that it was shameful for them.

And it was like they were beaten before the games even started.

New Zealand have never had the best team or most talented squad, but as a cricketing country we've made up for it with grit, clever tactics, sticking to a well-researched and well-thought out game plan and fielding like demons.

Not meek, bereft of plans and general cannon fodder at the death, like last night.

This is how New Zealand teams often looked against the legendary Aussie sides of the late 90s and early 2000s, not of late.

Back then we, as fans, knew the Australians were a better side and would win most of the games, but we watched, hoping our heroes could pull something out of the bag against the giants of the game.

When things were going well, the New Zealanders were hyped up and fizzing, but when the tide started to turn or the Aussies slowly wore them down, their heads dropped and a sense of inevitability set in.

Under Stephen Fleming, and then Daniel Vettori, the side was at least inventive and became leaders in innovation.

Then Brendon McCullum took the reins and the belief grew and grew. It didn't matter who New Zealand were playing, the players genuinely believed they could win. And we as fans did too.

McCullum's gone and so, it appears, is his machismo that the rest of the squad bought in to. It's like without our bully, how do we stand up to a team of bullies; without big bro to stand behind, we're all a bit vulnerable.

Surely when McCullum left, the belief in being able to beat Australia didn't sneak into his gear bag and leave too.

But that's how it looks.

There has been some OK bowling, but as a collective, this has been the worst series bowling performance in recent memory.

The death bowling has been nothing short of horrific. Either the plans are awful and not thought-out at all - which won't be the case - or the execution has been appalling.

Bowling block-hole yorkers is a tough skill, but Matt Henry looked like he was giving Mitch Marsh batting practice last night, going for 21 in the final over.

This isn't through lack of trying or effort, of that I'm 100 percent sure, but something is missing and it's not just McCullum.

It's his belief.

With McCullum, the side - and the fans - believed we could take on anyone, anywhere and win. He oozed confidence and we all bought into it.

Mitchell Santner is bowled during the second ODI between the Black Caps and Australia.

Mitchell Santner is bowled during the second ODI between the Black Caps and Australia. Photo: PhotoSport

Despite smashing home a second test victory against Pakistan in Hamilton last month, the belief they can foot it with Steve Smith's men seems to be missing and it's most evident when things start to go wrong.

With McCullum, the players would look to their skipper, he'd try some hare-brained ploy or a bizarre fielding position, and often it would work.

"Wow, he's so clever," we'd all think and the side would do the same.

While missing McCullum's bravado is affecting the Black Caps, it also works for the opposition. The Aussies have that look of a predator about them and with McCullum away from the nest, all his little ones are vulnerable.

Thankfully ODI cricket is fickle and is now the most easily forgettable format of the game.

This instalment of the Chappell-Hadlee series might be lost, but a good start to the game on Friday in Melbourne and hopefully all that belief will come flooding back.

It kind of has to, because the mental bruises from a three-game shellacking could be hard to shake.

Performances like this aren't just a problem for the team itself, they can quickly become an issue for New Zealand Cricket too.

If game three is another hiding, getting bums on seats for the return three matches - an already budgeted for windfall for the NZC coffers - could become much tougher, too.

* Matt Richens has been a sports journalist for 10 years.