Central return simpler task for Ross Taylor
As the New Zealand team battle out a largely meaningless one-day series in South Africa, a far more significant event will take place in Napier next week.
Former skipper Ross Taylor will make what he hopes is a low-key return to first-class cricket in a Plunket Shield game at McLean Park. It will be anything but, as the proverbial elephant in the dressing room over the last few weeks is finally sighted on a cricket pitch.
The New Zealand players and their coach Mike Hesson will filter home soon after, and preparations will begin for England's much-awaited arrival in early February.
An awkward meeting between Hesson and the man he sacked, Taylor, will inevitably take place, probably with a few representatives present.
Skipper Brendon McCullum knows the Taylor situation, which has been hanging over his head throughout South Africa, needs addressing.
He had this to offer, after his side were thrashed by an innings and 193 runs by South Africa.
"It's going to have to be a process worked through to ensure the integration back into team is smooth and everyone's got the best interests of the team at heart," McCullum said.
"I'm hoping that will be a smooth process. Ross is coming back to play a few games leading up to the England series, which is great, and I'm sure he's determined to come back and make an impact in this team."
It was intriguing choice of words, as if Taylor had transgressed and needed to win back the support of his teammates.
Let's hope it can't sink the team any lower. Amid their worst batting crisis in recent memory, they desperately need their best player back scoring runs at No. 4, far moreso than they need Hesson and Taylor sitting together at breakfast.
McCullum fronted the cameras and microphones in a conciliatory, rather than defiant mood. There's little left to say after back-to-back innings defeats, yesterday's the sixth-worst in New Zealand test history.
He couldn't fault his team's preparation, but they folded under "game day pressure".
He praised the South African team who he said were far better than the one they faced in March, coming off a tough series against England and Australia. He'd never faced anything like it in international cricket.
Still, some tinkering and serious talking is required, even with Taylor back in the engine room.
McCullum said it's still undecided whether he'll open, but the batting order is set for a reshuffle before the first test in Dunedin in March.
That could mean BJ Watling moving up to open and McCullum to the middle order. Martin Guptill or Kane Williamson could also shuffle down, and Dean Brownlie up. All permutations will be considered.
"There clearly needs to be little bit of change at some point. There's nipping and tucking involved in terms of some personnel and trying to find the right balance of who fits where and how best suits game plan you're trying to play."
Jesse Ryder would solve the all-rounder problem. He could bat at six and bowl a few overs, allowing either Watling or Luke Ronchi to bat seven. But Ryder's availability remains up in the air. McCullum said nothing had changed, that it was solely Ryder's decision and he still had issues to work through.
The pace trio of Tim Southee (thumb injury permitting), Trent Boult and Doug Bracewell will be reunited which gives cause for optimism. Spin remains a headache, with Jeetan Patel likely to come under threat from Bruce Martin or Todd Astle, the latter who provides a strong batting option.