ANY GIVEN MONDAY
Meanwhile, in a sporting galaxy far, far away, New Zealand didn't go so well…
While the majority of the focus was zeroed in on Eden Park, our globetrotting cricketers were kicking off a test championship campaign under the ramparts of a Portuguese fort in Galle, Sri Lanka.
The unvarnished truth of it was that it was a poor start to the extended campaign and just as ominously, a poor advertisement for test cricket. Forced to sit through five days of mediocre cricket played in asphyxiating conditions, you'd be hard-pressed to make an argument for the need of a test championship.
(Thankfully, due mainly to the raw pace of Jofra Archer, test cricket looked pretty spectacular in London over the same five-day stretch).
New Zealand didn't do anything awfully but neither did they do anything particularly well. Perhaps, after the extraordinary ebb and flow of their last outing (albeit in coloured clothing) it was no surprise that this proved a tough series to raise your game for.
The lack of any batting build-up – their only warm-up match was ruined by rain after a single day in the field – showed, most notably with the skipper, who played two of the more undistinguished shots of his career in the space of three days.
New Zealand are not going to win many games when he scores four runs across a test, such is the burden on Kane Williamson.
The easy blame for the loss is the spinners for not bowling well and failing to defend a challenging fourth-innings target, but this was a match lost in the first innings when the Black Caps scratched their way to 249 in the best conditions of the match - at least 100 runs shy of where they should have been.
That would have changed the complexion of the match because although the ball kept turning, the pitch never broke up – it just got slower.
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The series shifts to Colombo now and there are questions for Williamson and Gary Stead to ponder, not least the role of Mitchell Santner. The allrounder was ineffective with both bat and ball – 24 wicketless overs and 12 and 13 with the bat – in Galle and looks like a white-ball specialist.
Santner is no neophyte, having made his debut four years ago, but in 18 tests he has gone past 50 with the bat just twice and is averaging a tick under 40 with the ball. It is difficult to see how he has a long-term future in red-ball cricket unless there is a dramatic uptick in fortunes in at least one of the major disciplines.
In terms of balance, it is difficult to guess the rationale behind playing three spinners when all of them are orthodox and two of them left-armers.
In Colombo, legs pinner Todd Astle could come in for either Santner or Ajaz Patel, which would be a tough call on the latter given he took a five-for in the first innings at Galle. Or they could turn to allrounder Colin de Grandhomme, though his game does not look suited to subcontinental conditions.
The ever-dependable Neil Wagner is the other option, albeit a tenuous one given he will lengthen the tail and cannot expect his short-ball attack to be successful in sluggish conditions.
In other words, they have options but none that are likely to signal a dramatic shift in fortunes.
Chasing the series and test championship points means they have to be more aggressive in their outlook, certainly with the ball, hopefully at the top of the order with the bat.
That's not where the Black Caps want to be, but it should at least make for a more appetising dish than what was served up in Galle.
Booing not on
The booing of Steve Smith at Lord's when he was struck by Archer in a frightening incident eerily reminiscent to the blow that fatally struck Phil Hughes was about as low as a cricket crowd can go.
Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft – the sandpaper three – knew they were going to come in for crowd treatment this Ashes series and that's okay, they deserve it. But there's a time and place for everything and when a guy has been struck to the turf by a ball delivered at more than 150km/h, in no circumstances is that the time.
Nor is it the time when he bravely/stupidly returns to the crease a little later. It was mob mentality at its worst and shows that even the classiest venues can house classless patrons.
Was Barrett fully utilised?
There were signs of life for the All Blacks' Beau'unga World Cup master plan.
Both were good at the weekend, not that there has ever been any doubt about their individual qualities.
The combination – as much as there can be a genuine combination between first-five and fullback – could prove to be effective, not that anyone really doubted that they could co-exist (Beauden Barrett could probably play anywhere from 10 to 15 if asked).
Watch the tape though and count the times Barrett touched the ball when he was at fullback.
Now ask yourself if that's the best use of rugby's most potent attacking weapon?
If your answer is no, then you find yourself in the same camp as me. If your answer is yes, that's cool: we don't live in a one-party state "serviced" by Pravda, so there's no obligation on us to all think the same.
Barrett's peripheral role did not hurt the All Blacks in the weekend. It might not hurt them all the way through to November. If it does, however, the move will be scrutinised - just as it should be.
THE MONDAY LONG LISTEN ...
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