OPINION: Ten months since their last home international. Big crowd of 23,758. Electric atmosphere. Familiar ground. One-day series winners in South Africa. Ross Taylor's return.
So many factors pointed to a busy, purposeful New Zealand performance at Eden Park to lay down a marker against England in their tour opener. And in the most even format where New Zealand have their best chance at victory.
That's what made their opening night flop so hard to stomach, a year after such an impressive tour-opening T20 win against South Africa in Wellington.
Quite how they fluffed their lines so badly remains a mystery. Coach Mike Hesson put it down to over-excitement at being home, and his players trying too hard.
They might have been playing on child-size boundaries but that excuse should only apply to those who play on artificial turf on Saturday mornings.
Being outplayed by England, a handy yet hardly world-beating T20 side, would have been more palatable had New Zealand competed in all three disciplines.
Their fielding verged on comical. Five dropped catches in 20 overs must be a record for a New Zealand team on a night they conceded their equal-highest T20 total. Both sides suggested the twilight made it difficult to pick up the white ball, but it didn't affect the England fielders, particularly Eoin Morgan who took a magnificent, running catch to a Brendon McCullum skier.
As each New Zealand catch tumbled to the grass, two from Taylor's usually reliable hands, shoulders slumped lower. At 172-4 when Morgan departed in the 16th over, the result was safe to call.
There's an argument that it's only T20, that momentum can swing on one standout performance, and all's not lost heading to Hamilton. But it will take some turnaround and the sides were much further apart than 40 runs.
The home bowling was off key, the experience and guile of Kyle Mills (unwanted), Tim Southee and Daniel Vettori (both injured) missing on a ground the others should know well.
Straight half-volleys were easily pushed for six by Luke Wright, Morgan and company.
Wasn't New Zealand supposed to be the home side, and the tourists notoriously slow starters in their most far-flung destination?
When New Zealand embarked on their unlikely chase for 215, England's attack of 140kmh men Steve Finn, Stuart Broad and Jade Dernbach bowled short of a length and mixed up their pace. New Zealand had to go searching for their sixes square of the wicket, and got lost.
Taylor got his Tendulkar-like standing ovation when he strode out to replace McCullum. He'd received a rousing reception from a corner of the South Stand when McCullum posted him to the mid-wicket boundary, then promptly shelled his second catch.
Taylor's relationship with Hesson remains a fascination. England's media are intrigued, and quizzed Hesson yesterday.
Hesson thought it was "great" that the captain he sacked got such an ovation. And how are they getting on? "Work in progress is a good term. We're working well together. It's going to take a while before we're going out for coffee every week."
The Hesson-Taylor saga will rumble on as long as Taylor continues to struggle on the field. He clearly needed the run in his first international since November 29, but the Black Caps badly need him happy and confident.
If Saturday was a portent of things to come on this seven-week tour, then roll on April. For the sake of the paying punters and TV viewers, let's hope it's true what they say about a poor opening night.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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