When the biggest cheers you rouse from your supporters are laced in irony, victory is never going to be a prospect for any sports team.
Such was the case for the Black Caps against England in the third and final one day international at Eden Park tonight. There were cheers for the clean fielding off well-hit English strikes, and for wides bowled by the tourists.
The passing of 50, 100 and 150 were loudly applauded by the 17,350 strong crowd on a pleasant Auckland evening - but they weren't totals posted by Black Caps batsmen.
New Zealand capitulated with a series victory and a higher notch on the one-day rankings at stake, losing by five wickets to a English team who rarely looked rattled with either bat or ball in hand.
Seamers Steven Finn and James Anderson tortured a New Zealand top order they touched up in Napier, while their English counterparts set the tone for a relaxed English chase of the Black Caps' paltry 185 with 12.3 overs to spare.
Save the fight of skipper Brendon McCullum, who scored a swash-buckling 79 of 68 balls in a losing effort, and the verve of seamer Tim Southee, there were few positives coach Mike Hesson will be able to pull from the match.
With the test series looming, the side's batting woes remain a huge concern, as does the inability of the Kiwi attack to even look like worrying the likes of Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Eoin Morgan.
Even in a Twenty20 international, New Zealand's 185 wouldn't have been enough on an Eden Park pitch that could be best described as a ‘batsman's paradise’.
The stage was set for the Black Caps in Auckland. Victory there would seal a second straight one-day series victory against top-class opposition. Yet from the outset of the New Zealand innings, you knew the chances of that would be incredibly slim.
New Zealand's opening partnership of BJ Watling (1) and Hamish Rutherford (2) lasted just 11 balls before Watling feathered a Steven Finn delivery to Graeme Swann at second slip.
His partner and Kane Williamson departed before eight overs were finished, leaving New Zealand floundering at 11 for 3.
Finn and Anderson were having a field day, with Finn was the pick of the duo. The Middlesex quick moved the ball in the air, and never let the opposing batsmen get comfortable.
Ross Taylor and Grant Elliott (24) mounted a brief fight-back for the Blacks, putting on a slow 53 off 15.2 overs, before the former skipper ran out his partner in a mix-up off a easy single that never looked like having a second run.
Taylor looked confident at the crease, however, with an eye-catching hook to square the pick of his shots.
But his chance to score the big total his side needed him to do was scooped when he was judged to have feathered a Stuart Broad ball to Buttler. Taylor referred the decision, and, while there looked to be some doubt in whether he got an edge or not, the umpire's call was upheld, and New Zealand were 67 for 5.
The Black Caps never really recovered, despite the best efforts of their skipper.
McCullum, who is in good nick at the moment, fought hard - with Finn and Broad taking particular tap late on. Fifteen would come off one Finn over, and 11 off a Broad one towards the end, but the problem was the lack of solidity at the other end.
James Franklin (14), his brother Nathan (4) and Andrew Ellis (8) all came, went and failed to test the English bowlers.
The skipper would finally hole out to Anderson on the boundary off Swann - with the English seamer taking a polished one-handed catch. Finn ended with 3 for 27 off his 9 overs, Anderson claimed 1 for 34 off his three while Broad was typically tidy, taking 2 for 38 off 9.
English openers Alastair Cook and Ian Bell wasted little time getting into their work against the likes of Kyle Mills and Tim Southee.
Though Bell holed out to Rutherford (24) off Ellis, the English piled on 50 runs in the first 10 overs - a time period that the New Zealanders scored just 18 runs in.
Cook and Trott continued to make batting look as easy as it should at Eden Park. The duo played some well-measured shots, hit the boundary when needed, but never looked rushed at the wicket.
Southee (3 for 48 off 10 overs) claimed Trott (38), Cook (46) and Buttler (3), all to catches by Watling, who took the gloves after McCullum strained his abdominal during his batting effort.
The skipper looks set to get the all clear to play in the tests. Joe Root (28) and Chris Woakes (3) would guide England home, though Mills would made a fantastic one-handed catch to dismiss Morgan (39) of Ellis late.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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