Low expectations may work for Black Caps
New Zealand rugby supporters look forward to the international season with good reason. It's easy to back a world champion.
New Zealand cricket followers aren't anywhere near as well served.
In fact, the Black Caps' current second-tier status is already threatening to turn England's forthcoming two-month tour of New Zealand, starting on February 4, into another sphincter-clenching exercise for the home fans - if they can even bear to watch another potential train wreck unfold.
But watch they inevitably will. That's the thing about train wrecks - people tend to show a rather macabre interest in the aftermath.
South Africa are the world's best test team, and predictably exposed the Black Caps for the floundering, dysfunctional outfit they ultimately confirmed themselves to be.
Like the Proteas, England are similarly blessed in terms of ability and experience and, given the right conditions and circumstances, have the capacity to genuinely challenge South Africa's top dog status.
There were certainly extenuating circumstances in South Africa. How much more competitive would the Black Caps have been with Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder, Tim Southee and Dan Vettori in the side? It's still hard to imagine New Zealand beating South Africa even with them restored to the test XI, although they might arguably have avoided some of the first-innings humiliation they suffered against the likes of Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn.
Taylor appears ready for a recall, and it seems that everyone - fans, adminstrators and even players alike - is still hanging on Ryder's every action and word as they collectively will him back into the Black Caps fold. But if Ryder is awaiting the luxury of a more serene Black Caps team environment to mark his return to international cricket, then it could be a frustratingly long wait for everybody.
And we can only imagine the awkwardness surrounding Taylor's return to the Black Caps' dressing room and his eventual confrontation with the man who took the captaincy from him. But even coach Mike Hesson might be happy to accept some culpability, in the interests of restoring some quality to New Zealand's brittle batting lineup.
At least the Black Caps don't have the burden of unrealistic expectation hanging over them any more. Everyone knows exactly where they stand in terms of world cricket's test pecking order, and few will be expecting them to put a dent in England's now well-weathered flanks.
It's not such a bad position to be in, and with Taylor and Southee back, they will be better equipped to tackle England in favourable home conditions.
It's still hard to get past the reality that any meaningful change to New Zealand cricket's fortunes needs to be made at the top if we're finally to establish some real harmony and see the likes of Ryder restored to action.
The Nelson Mail