The BLACKCAPS have arrived home from seven weeks in Africa with plenty of valuable experiences under their belt, according to coach Mike Hesson.
The 16 man squad started with a 10-day camp in Pretoria, followed by back-to-back Test wins in Bulawayo, before a weather-affected series with South Africa in which they were eventually trumped by a quality Proteas side.
“It’s been a long tour for the guys, but one we feel has been very beneficial,” Hesson said.
“There’s been a few fresh faces who’ve had their first taste of what tour life is all about.
“Being away for such a long time gives you a good chance to work closely with the players and you learn a lot about them. Tours are also great for galvanising a group and bringing people closer together.”
Reflecting on the disappointing end to the trip, a 204 runs loss in Pretoria, Hesson was philosophical.
“Once the pitch started to deteriorate, the new ball was always going to be the biggest challenge.
“When it seamed or kept low it did it quickly and when it does it quickly it challenges you - and on two occasions the top order weren’t able to get through that and left a lot of work for the middle and lower order.
“That’s exposed some techniques at times, and those are certainly things that we are going to need to address.
“But the experiences over the last week or so are going to be invaluable and they’re experiences that we can’t replicate at home.
“In first class cricket you don’t come across Steyn, Philander and Rabada on a wicket like that. So for them to be challenged like that and to come through it with some credit is important for us.”
One player to come home with credit is rookie number five batsman Henry Nicholls. The 24-year-old was given a baptism of fire by the Proteas.
Forced to enter the fray inside the first ten overs in both innings, the left hander survived the new ball onslaught and compiled 112 runs for the match, the most of any Kiwi.
“Henry’s a man of very good character and he’s shown that over a period of time for us,” said Hesson.
“Starting his Test career against Australia is a tough challenge in itself and to score a fifty against them and then perform as well as he did in Pretoria confirms the talent he has.
“He’s still learning his trade and the experience he received against this quality of opposition, in very, very difficult situations, shows he’s got a nice future for us.”
The other bright spot for Hesson was pace bowler Neil Wagner.
The Otago left arm seamer’s rise continued in Africa as he led the wicket takers with 21 wickets from four Tests, enough to see him climb to No.9 on the latest ICC rankings – the highest of any current New Zealand Test bowler.
“He’s gone from strength to strength in the past six months; he’s grabbed the third seamer role and run with it.
“He just keeps running in when it’s flat and he picks up top order wickets - it’s critical for us. I’m really delighted for him and to get a five for in front of his family and friends at Centurion was a nice moment for him,” he said.
The BLACKCAPS are home for just a week before reassembling for a completely different challenge against India.
“A few of our guys have experienced India before,” said Hesson. “It’s going to be quite a different test than what we had in South Africa where we were challenged predominantly by pace.
“In India, it will be more reverse swing and a lot of spin with lots of guys around the bat. So quite a different challenge and one that’s in the forefront of our minds.”
The BLACKCAPS will be chasing history against the number two ranked India, having never won an away Test series against them.
They play three Tests with the first in Kanpur on September 22nd.
It will be the second complete tour in charge for new captain Kane Williamson, and Hesson was encouraged by what he’s seen so far from his skipper.
“I think Kane has done an excellent job over the last couple of months. He involves a lot of senior players around decision making. It’s a very inclusive style of leadership and one that is going to help the group grow and I’m really looking forward to seeing how he develops over the next couple of years.”