ANY GIVEN MONDAY
Every test innings has a story to tell.
Jeet Raval's last innings was a short story that left too many questions.
To tell you that he was struggling as he walked to the crease last night was to provide as much insight as an aviation observer telling you a pilot needed to land their plane safely for it to be considered a successful flight.
It was a given.
To tell he looked a broken man as he walked from the field two balls later is also a given. Cricket is a cruel game when you start to show frailty and nothing summed that up more than the fact he got an inside edge into his pad, a fact that should have reprieved him.
That he didn't review demonstrated he either froze under the pressure, or was somehow so badly out of nick he didn't feel the edge.
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Neither answer would provide any comfort.
A cricketer badly out of form isn't a new story, or a particularly riveting one, but it's what happens next which is fascinating.
The 15-man squad selected for this two-test series is also the one selected to tour Australia.
If you could list the places you don't want to play as an opening batsman when you're out of form, Australia would be at the top. The crowds will be into you, the slips will be into you and we haven't even got to Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins with a new ball yet.
Ask the Pakistanis how they've been enjoying that experience lately.
To send Raval out in those circumstances would represent cruel and unusual punishment.
There has to be sympathy for Raval's plight. As a red-ball specialist, he gets fewer opportunities to work back into form and came into this series with little time at the crease.
That is Raval's lot and he has to deal with it, however. Sympathy doesn't earn you runs.
So New Zealand have played England with a walking wicket at the top of the order. What they don't have is a lot of options.
The expectation was that Raval would walk out and take guard in Perth in nine days. If coach Gary Stead and captain Kane Williamson deem that to be now unpalatable, they either need to replace an injured player with an opening batsman, or jury rig an opener out of the current squad.
The latter is a sketchy option at best. The man best qualified to open in the current squad is also the wicketkeeper. It would be an awfully tough call on BJ Watling to ask him to do both, though you know he would if best for the team.
You could open with Watling and give the gloves to back-up Tom Blundell. This does not alter the balance of the batting side but again it is tough on Watling who has fashioned himself into the most effective wicketkeeper-batsman in tests today and has earned the right to continue fighting lower middle-order rearguards.
Henry Nicholls could be another option but he has also earned the right to an extended spell at No 5 after a stellar couple of years.
The most radical option would be to use legspinner Todd Astle. He played a lot of his early first-class cricket for Canterbury as an opener and at 33 is unlikely to be fazed by the chat he will receive. Then again, if he was an excellent opener, he'd still be doing it for the Cantabs and would have a healthier first-class average than 25.
In short, the jury-rigged option is a poor one.
If someone outside the squad was brought in as an injury replacement with the idea of opening, it would have to be somebody who has been there, done that and has played plenty of cricket this summer.
Ladies and gentlemen, your choices are effectively Hamish Rutherford and Martin Guptill.
Rutherford's technique was found wanting over his 16 tests, but not more so than Raval's is being pulled apart now. His free-scoring style is probably suited to Australian pitches, although it is easy to see him being over-matched by their pace attack.
Guptill is a better player than both Rutherford and Raval, but for one reason or several, his test batting has never matched his talent.
One explanation is technical — he goes at the ball with hard hands so his nicks always carry at a lovely catching height to the cordon — but he is also a victim of a type of talent-surplus bias.
Guptill's failures are judged more harshly than others because we see how naturally gifted he is and it feels like he's wasting it. Players with less obvious talent, like Raval, are instead credited with getting the most out of themselves.
The narrative is therefore very different — one is a gutsy fighter, the other a disappointment — even if the results are similar.
It should be noted that Raval's overall record is not awful. An average of 32.3 is decent by New Zealand historical standards.
But the raw numbers hide a startling fact: in his past 21 innings, Raval has been dismissed for a single-figure score 12 times. That means Kane Williamson is acting as a quasi-opener in more than half his recent innings, a questionable use of your most valuable resource.
Of those nine times Raval has given himself a chance, he has passed 50 just twice, so he's not even making the most of his limited opportunities.
Others have been dropped following far shorter strings of futility in far tougher circumstances — Guptill and Rutherford are just two of them.
The selectors would be understandably reluctant to turn back the clock and call on players who have been tried without huge success in the past.
They needed the incumbent to deliver last night and deep into today to spare their blushes. That didn't happen. Raval crash landed.
● This column is a reworking of one written for nzherald.co.nz before New Zealand's second innings yesterday