Homecoming parties require more than just a big turnout and loud music.
So we discovered at Eden Park last night, as the return of Ross Taylor was a letdown amid plenty of noise from a 23,758-strong crowd, but all the substance of flat beer from New Zealand's cricketers.
England cantered to a 40-run victory in the first Twenty20 international, an ominous opening gambit on their seven-week tour. The hosts were awful in the field where five catches were dropped, boundary balls were frequent and England racked up their highest T20 score, 214-7.
"It was a big concern today; no one means to drop catches but five in a T20 game is never going to help your cause," skipper Brendon McCullum said.
"It's an area that we normally pride ourselves on; tonight we were off the pace and that flowed on with our bowling and also our batting."
It was New Zealand's equal highest total conceded in their 63 T20 internationals.
The Black Caps posted 174-9 in reply, Martin Guptill's 44 off 32 balls their best while visiting skipper Stuart Broad was outstanding, taking 4-24.
Desperate to make an opening statement on home soil after their ODI series win in South Africa, this was monumental stage fright and won't be easy to recover from.
Victory in Hamilton on Tuesday is now mandatory to keep the three-match series alive but it's already a long shot. The visitors are well in control, having nailed their sixth consecutive T20 victory over New Zealand.
"In the grand scheme of the series it's not damaging. It hurts to be behind the eight ball early on but we've got another game in a couple of days time and we know in T20 it can turn around very quickly. We saw that in South Africa," McCullum said.
Taylor's night was full of frustration as he got a hero's welcome but couldn't swing the contest in his first international since November 29.
The former captain, usurped by McCullum on coach Mike Hesson's command, dropped two catches then slogged out for 13, picking the longest boundary against lanky quick Steve Finn (3-39).
England's topscorer Eoin Morgan showed New Zealand's fielders how it was done, circling and running back from point to snare a crucial chance and sent McCullum back for 10.
McCullum and Taylor's paths crossed on the boundary and the crowd reflected the captaincy fiasco of the past two months. Grumblings at McCullum's departure dissolved into huge cheers; the masses standing to welcome the people's champion back to the fold. But there was to be no fairytale return.
Winning skipper Broad said it was a good toss to lose on a difficult, postage stamp ground with the child-size straight boundaries.
"Morgan's catch was fantastic to get rid of such a key man and the way we executed, we made it difficult for the New Zealand batsmen to time the ball and to settle into any rhythm. It was pretty much the complete performance from us."
On a stunning evening with not a cloud in the sky, it rained sixes before sunset. England's 15 rope-clearers were the third-most of any T20 international innings, just two off the record held by South Africa.
Big Mitchell McClenaghan, in his home debut, was energetic and accurate, moving the England batsmen around the crease and ending with 1-29.
But that's where the intensity ended. The others offered too many freebies on a hittable length and with straight boundaries of barely 65m, it was elementary for England's hitters to punch down the ground.
Trent Boult, on T20 debut, bowled four wides with his first ball then was hit 15 rows back by Alex Hales. Andy Ellis went for 18 off his first over as Luke Wright feasted on the smorgasbord, whacking four sixes in his 42 off 20 balls.
Captain McCullum had given a two-spin attack a vote of confidence the day before, but Ronnie Hira and Nathan McCullum went for combined 91 off eight overs.
Key man Morgan didn't need too many free invitations either, topscoring with 46 off 26 balls.
Then there was the catching which verged on the comical. McClenaghan hardly laid a finger on a simple offering from Morgan, while Hira and James Franklin were the other offenders in the deep.
New Zealand: Martin Guptill, Hamish Rutherford, Brendon McCullum (captain), Ross Taylor, Colin Munro, James Franklin, Andrew Ellis, Nathan McCullum, Trent Boult, Roneel Hira, Mitchell McClenaghan.
England: Michael Lumb, Alex Hales, Luke Wright, Jonny Bairstow, Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler, Samit Patel, Stuart Broad (captain), James Tredwell, Steve Finn, Jade Dernbach.
Umpires: Chris Gaffaney (NZ), Derek Walker (NZ). Third umpire: Gary Baxter (NZ).
- The Dominion Post
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