ANY GIVEN MONDAY
By the time Tim Seifert and Ross Taylor had combined last night to put New Zealand into an unassailable position you could only smile ruefully and wonder how India would, in fact, assail them.
Perhaps that was the wrong way of looking at it. Even by the standards of T20, where cheers or calamity are but a slog sweep away, New Zealand have done a remarkable job of violating their own ambition over the previous week.
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In three different cities the Black Caps had thrice conspired to beat themselves in brutal fashion.
Last night's effort deserves its own place in the lore of sporting seppuku. You have to tap into a rich vein of haplessness to go from 116-3 in the 13th over chasing a more-than-manageable 164, to 141-9 in the penultimate over.
So thoroughly disoriented were New Zealand by that point that Hamish Bennett played a forward defence to the final ball of the 19th over. It was a mighty block, borderline flawless in its execution, but monumentally inappropriate when you're chasing 21 off seven deliveries.
It is a little perverse to pick on the No 11 when those above him have set the table in such a haphazard way but he needn't worry, there is plenty of other picking to be done.
Let's start with Seifert, who has unwittingly found himself at the centre of just about every calamity this series. He'd compiled a classy 50 off just 30 balls – and had (almost) erased the memory of him sending Tom Bruce down the river early with a crazy bunt-and-run – when he spooned a nothing shot to midwicket.
In that one moment New Zealand went from racing certainties to quivering wrecks.
Daryl Mitchell (2 off 4) was no match for a Jasprit Bumrah yorker. Mitchell Santner (6 off 7), who is enduring a summer of torment after a neon-lit start, skied a knuckle ball.
Two balls later, Scott Kuggeleijn's first, was hoicked straight down the throat of deep square.
It was fast turning into amateur hour, open mic night at the crease, but at the other end a pro remained on stage. Surely Taylor would carry the tune through to the end?
Actually, no. Like Seifert, Taylor has also found new ways of finding the wrong result. This time he nicked a wide half volley as his feet and hands contradicted each other while looking for his trademark flog over cow corner.
Tim Southee, who has rarely been the big for the big occasion with the bat, missed a couple of extravagant paddles, boofed one over mid-off and then lost his leg peg to Bumrah.
It was left to Ish Sodhi to restore a little bit of pride with two massive sixes in the final over, but by that point it was a Band-Aid on an amputation.
For the third match in a row, the batsmen butchered it. The bowlers have not been perfect, but by and large they've held India's potent lineup in check.
Southee has not bowled well at the death and that should not be a surprise. A medium pacer who possesses subtle varieties more useful for the long game has to be perfect when delivering a 19-overs-old ball, and Southee was not.
The only surprise is that the team kept persevering with him even when it was obvious that his tools were not fit for purpose. Perhaps, as stand-in captain, he felt he needed to lead the way, but the best way of leading by example is to always put the team's best interests first.
Putting yourself forward for ritual slaughter is strangely admirable, yet ultimately pointless.
In further defence, it wasn't as if New Zealand were loaded with options. With Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson to presumably come back into the T20 fold, we should be able to put a line through the Southee-at-the-death narrative.
The bowling was solid, as was the top order. Perennial whipping boy Colin Munro has been effective without the normal pyrotechnics, and Williamson, Taylor and Seifert have had their moments. The moments have just never come when the heat has been turned on highest.
New Zealand will point to this for solace: but for one or two moments they could have won the series 3-2.
Fact is they didn't. The fact is they fell over in sight of the line three times. That points not to a team that has forgotten how to play cricket, but a team that has forgotten how to win; a team that was being talked about at the start of summer as the best this country has produced.
The Black Caps have now lost eight internationals in succession. Ahead of the first ODI on Wednesday, you'd be a bold punter to predict the slump will end in Hamilton. A loss in the first ODI would take them back to the Dark Ages of 2002, when they dropped nine internationals in a row to Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the West Indies.
The decline in confidence is obvious; the search for positives increasingly banal.
At the moment we're not watching the team we've become accustomed to, no matter the format.
What we're watching is like a bad tribute band pretending to be the Black Caps – a band in desperate need of a new song.
This was marketed as a summer for the ages – a festival of cricket. The start of Super Rugby almost felt like a relief.
If it's not ridiculously early for rugby, then it's not ridiculously early for a prediction.
Mark 2020 down as the year that Scott Robertson proves he's the smartest man in New Zealand rugby and with that leverage, some team – Toulouse, Toulon, anybody up there bar Saracens probably – will buy out the final year of his contract and turn him into the richest man in New Zealand rugby.
The Federer, Nadal, Djokovic triumvirate has been overwhelmingly good for tennis but it's time for a new story.
THE MONDAY LONG READ ...
This is a sobering read about how the billion-dollar sports industry strips souls from its participants, from Longreads. Take this line, for example.
"When I hear about sports stars who kill or commit suicide or generally behave antisocially, I always think: no wonder. In a culture that destroys your body and your mind, no wonder. It's something of a paradox, of course, because, as we are repeatedly told, physical activity is often essential to psychological health. But why is it so rarely the other way around?"