The third Test match against South Africa will play a defining role in New Zealand's summer, Daniel Vettori, the New Zealand allrounder, has said.
After beating Australia in Hobart last year and dominating Zimbabwe in all three formats, New Zealand have had their victories put in perspective by a strong South Africa side.
South Africa have already claimed the Twenty20 and ODI trophies and cannot lose the Test series after they beat New Zealand by nine wickets in Hamilton. Their dominance now threatens to overshadow the host's achievements from earlier in the season. "It's [the third Test] pretty influential on our summer," Vettori said. "If we can scrap back from this Test match, it's been overall a very successful summer. If not, then I think we will remember it for that loss. It's really important, the boys understand that. They have done it in the past and this is an opportunity to try and do it again."
Although New Zealand find themselves trailing going into the final Test, Vettori feels they have been able to go toe-to-toe with South Africa for the majority of the time. The difference has been the ability of South Africa's batsmen to stick around that little bit longer even when the bowler's have been on top. South Africa had three centurions in the Dunedin Test while New Zealand had none. South Africa's top scorer in Hamilton was AB de Villiers, who battled for his 83, New Zealand's was Kane Williamson, who looked well set for more than his eventual total of 77.
"Unfortunately we let ourselves down with the bat in the first Test and we fought back with the ball and then let ourselves down again with the bat," Vettori said. "That's been the talk from Wrighty [John Wright] and Ross [Taylor} so far: applying ourselves with the bat and putting a score on the board for our three seamers to make the most of these conditions."
South Africa's bowlers have dealt New Zealand such heavy blows that they have had to drop one of the four-prongs in their seam attack to make room for an extra batsman. For the past three matches, New Zealand have played only five specialist batsmen and have been found wanting. So they have changed the balance of their team and will go into the Wellington Test with three fast bowlers and Vettori, who thinks that being without one of their quicks should not make too much difference.
"If the fourth seamer hasn't bowled as well as he would have liked him to in both Test matches, it just puts more onus on the other guys," he said. Tim Southee was the under-performing fourth seamer in Dunedin while Brent Arnel failed to impress in Hamilton. Although being without either of them will give the back-up bowlers extra responsibility, Vettori said they will view it as a chance to make an impact. "Maybe it will give a little bit of work for Dean Brownlie and Kane Williamson as well. We will look at it as a chance to bowl more overs and hopefully take more wickets."
The conditions will also mean that Vettori's role in the attack is clear. "With our three seamers, who are generally wicket-takers, they want a guy who can hold up an end," he said. "At the Basin, it's something that I have always been used to because of the wind. I think on days when it's fine and I am able to attack and I have done reasonably well here."
What Vettori hopes is that because New Zealand will only go into the match with four frontline bowlers, they will respond to their responsibilities with more urgency. "It's important that as a bowling group you know your roles and I think that's what South Africa do very well," he said. "When one guy is attacking, they can hold it up from another end and let that guy continue to attack so that's what we want to achieve in this Test."