Herald cricket writers Andrew Alderson and David Leggat review the summer of cricket and pick out their highs and lows for the Black Caps.
1) What's been the highlight of the summer?
A couple of candidates for me. The Chappell Hadlee wins at Eden Park (aka the Marcus Stoinis match) and the Trent Boult show at Seddon Park. One for it's sheer gob-smacking (almost) win pulled off by Stoinis once in a lifetime hitting; the other for Boult's high class bowling and his best ODI figures. But as test cricket remains No 1 to this mind, I'll go for New Zealand's final session victory over Pakistan at Seddon Park in late November. Nine wickets in the last two hours was barely believable. Once again it rammed home that nothing beats test cricket because, more than the other two versions, it resonates far longer.
Alderson: This test match. For New Zealand (without Ross Taylor, Trent Boult and Tim Southee) to graft out a 175-run lead against a batting and bowling line-up of South Africa's calibre, and to pin them at 80-5 in the second innings was an excellent achievement thwarted by rain. The mental tenacity coming back from a three-day trouncing in Wellington deserved kudos. Captain Kane Williamson led the way with a chanceless 176, but the number of cameos meant it felt like teamwork rather than relying on a batting genius.
2) What's been the lowlight of the summer?
It has to be the Basin capitulation against South Africa on day three. If you look at the test series as a whole, it was an even contest. Both sides had their moments and those few hours, when a relatively unknown spinner, Keshav Maharaj, took six for 40 in conditions far more suited to seamers, and batsmen, effectively separated the teams. The look on Kane Williamson's face as he tried to understand what had happened that day was priceless. He simply couldn't find the words to figure it out. A shame for New Zealand, considering they'd won four and drawn the other two tests of the home summer.
A close race between the inclement weather and New Zealand's application of the Decision Review System. The latter takes the gong because you can control it. Few countries appear to get it wrong as often. The worst gaffe was arguably reserved for Faf Du Plessis middling a ball onto his pad at 81 for three in the first innings of this test. Williamson received some appalling advice. He would have been better offering the decision to the crowd gladiatorial-style with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. A more coherent system needs to be worked out between bowler, wicketkeeper, captain... and possibly first slip (but not the coaches box).
3) How different could this test XI look the next time the Black Caps don the whites?
Considering the next test won't be until November, much can happen between now and then. But the likelihood is the team for the first test against the West Indies won't be much different from what you'd call the regular lineup, as distinct from the under-full strength side in Hamilton.
Remember senior seamers Trent Boult and Tim Southee were missing from this final test. So too the batting anchor Ross Taylor. And that's one of the dangers - that the fine efforts of this weakened team will be forgotten.
Coach Mike Hesson has flagged that while he's happy to tinker with teams for limited-overs internationals to find out his best options, tests remain sacrosanct. That's as it should be. All players in the current group should certainly be in the frame and hopefully being pressed hard by those angling to make the side. The interesting aspect will be who will be making a case to force their way in.
The likes of Neil Broom, brought in as Taylor's replacement, will be vulnerable but Matt Henry - who spent most of the summer sitting behind Boult, Southee and Neil Wagner -- and Jeetan Patel, at 36, didn't do their chances of making an impact next season any harm.
Remember there won't be much meaningful cricket before that series starts, other than possibly three or four Plunket Shield rounds.
Alderson: Let's rustle through the components ahead of the test against the West Indies at home in... November. I can't see too many new players joining the ranks, injury permitting.
Openers Jeet Raval and Tom Latham must stay; Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor are Easter Island statue-like at Nos 3 and 4; Henry Nicholls has done enough to stay at No.5; and B-J Watling remains the best wicketkeeper/No.7.
Trent Boult, Neil Wagner and Tim Southee are the three frontline pace bowlers.
Jeetan Patel (depending on how the 36-year-old envisages his future) is the best spinner, but will alternate in and out with Mitchell Santner depending on conditions and right-hand/left-hand opponent combinations. I would love to see Ish Sodhi in the mix, too.
Colin de Grandhomme is the leading bowling all-rounder, and Jimmy Neesham is the best batting all-rounder depending on circumstances. If the latter wants to play more he could morph into a specialist batsman to put medium-term pressure on Nicholls.