Cape Town: Even winning the toss won't help Brendon McCullum's desperate search for "some positives" from his team's confidence-shaking loss to South Africa in the first test. New Zealand got that wrong, too. McCullum chose to bat and New Zealand crumbled to 45 all out and their third worst batting display ever. Opposite number Graeme Smith said he would have bowled first anyway at his home ground at Newlands.
Even new skipper McCullum and coach Mike Hesson's most outspoken critics — and there have been many back home recently — can't hold them completely responsible for New Zealand's chaotic start in Cape Town. But their call to send a green Black Caps batting order straight into the South African fast bowlers' firing line on a receptive pitch for the quicks was a mistake and will increase the feeling that New Zealand's cricket leadership, from board to captain, is making all the wrong decisions lately.
"I was a bit surprised (with New Zealand's decision to bat)," South Africa skipper Smith said. "I didn't expect New Zealand to front up on day one, to be honest with you." Another surprising decision was Hesson stripping Ross Taylor of the captaincy before his match-winning batting in the second test against Sri Lanka in November — New Zealand's only win in its last 10 tests. Hesson's shake-up of the team by replacing Taylor with McCullum seemed to have only rattled the players, and they fell apart against test cricket's top-ranked team at Newlands. Perhaps with some lasting psychological damage.
"We'll never rid the memory of the 45. That will stay with us forever," McCullum said. Young fast bowler Trent Boult said: "I hope that in my career we don't have too many days that repeat similar to that." An outright poor decision was the New Zealand cricket body's bungled handling of the sacking of Taylor, which turned into a PR disaster for the sport at home when Cricket New Zealand apparently attempted to deliberately confuse the details of the popular Taylor's exit.
In New Zealand, already disillusioned fans were completely disgruntled on Friday by the innings and 27-run loss in Cape Town and threatened to vote with their feet and avoid New Zealand's top summer sport, both on television and at the grounds, after the now-infamous 45. "We've let our fans down back home which hurts a lot," McCullum said. "We've got to be better than that. It was all of us." And while the criticism at home — where even opposition politicians have commented on the problems — may well be the temporary and emotional reaction of sports followers to a heavy defeat, the New Zealand cricketers in South Africa need to urgently recover their own mental states.
Smith and South Africa have promised no letup of their unforgiving intensity and the positives McCullum was hoping to take from the Cape Town match down South Africa's south coast to Port Elizabeth for the second test were almost as rare as recent test victories for New Zealand. Only Dean Brownlie's brave 109 in the second innings and a glimmer of fight from Boult on the second morning came close to standing out.
That left McCullum and the coaching staff with another tough decision to make, and one the new captain said they had to take with careful consideration. How would they deal with the depressing and one-sided defeat? Practice more or relax? Forget it or reflect on it and learn from it? "I think it's important to feel the pulse of the group and find out what's required," McCullum said. "Quite a mental toll gets taken on you when you play a test match and I guess there's time when you get straight back on the horse and times when you need a little bit of reflection.
"We'll feel that out and make a decision as a group on what's the best way for us to get over this game and then start preparing for the next game." New Zealand cricket desperately needs the right decision to be made this time before the second test starts next Friday.