Craig McMillan, the New Zealand batting coach, has urged his batsmen to come up with “precise and clear” plans against Yasir Shah ahead of the third Test against Pakistan, which begins on December 3 in Abu Dhabi. Yasir’s match figures of 14 for 184 in Dubai were instrumental in Pakistan levelling the series after they lost a pulsating first Test by four runs.
McMillan rued the “crazy hour” on day three, when Yasir sparked a New Zealand collapse from 50 for 0 to 90 all out in their first innings, and said the performances of second-innings half-centurions Tom Latham, Ross Taylor and Henry Nicholls showed how the legspinner could be countered.
“From a batting point of view you just have to be so precise and clear with your batting plan, especially against Yasir Shah who was outstanding,” McMillan said. “He’s going to test you early on, he’s going to test that defence, so your defence has to be so tight, has to be so spot on, because if you make a mistake it’s pretty vital over here.
“And we saw, certainly in that second innings, some improvement, from the likes of Taylor and Nicholls and Latham, who batted a long time out there and showed what was possible. It didn’t happen in the first innings – it would have been a very different Test match if it had happened – but the guys are learning. We need to learn a bit quicker and get it right, I guess, in that first innings of the third Test.”
McMillan took the example of Taylor’s first-innings dismissal – the ball drifting in towards leg stump, opening up the batsman, and spinning past his outside edge to hit off stump – when asked what made Yasir so difficult to negotiate.
“Right up there, in terms of quality,” McMillan said of Yasir’s bowling in Dubai. “The drop and the drift that he was able to generate, especially in that first innings, in that spell, was as good as I’ve seen, and that was one of the things that made Shane Warne so difficult to face, that drift, and we saw that with a couple of dismissals that he bowled – the likes of the Taylor dismissal, that late drop and drift.
“It just takes the bat out of line, so you have to take your hat off to him and say that it was an exceptional bowling spell. I think Mickey Arthur, the Pakistan coach, labelled it one of the best spells of legspin bowling that he’d seen, so that makes it even more challenging for us, but the great thing was we saw guys adapt and get better in that second innings, and they trusted those plans, and they were able to put them into practice for a period of time – we just need to do it for longer.”
During his second-innings 77 in Dubai, Nicholls went past 1000 runs in Test cricket. The left-hander has had a fine 2018, with a 55 in the first Test in Abu Dhabi and an unbeaten 145 against England in March helping lift his average for the year to 53.00. McMillan was pleased to see Nicholls establish himself in New Zealand’s middle order.
“Terrific for Henry,” he said. “Been rapt with the way he’s progressed over this tour. It’s been challenging for him in terms of [playing] spin, and he’s made some real nice adjustments to his gameplan.
“He did a lot of work pre-tour, out at Lincoln, at the HPC (High Performance Centre), on some of the surfaces out there, and you can see that progression in his game, even from the first innings where he left the gap and just got done by a ball that dipped and then spun viciously and he left a hole that the ball went through and we talked about that and he made some really nice adjustments, and showed that he could bat for a long period in those conditions, so that will give him a lot of confidence.
“He’s just continued his great form over the last 12 months where he’s been one of our better-performed Test players. He’s making a real good performance in the middle order, he’s over a thousand Test runs now, [ICC Test] ranking is up to 17 – that’s great.”