By Niall Anderson in Melbourne
The Black Caps' present situation might be dismal, but at least they've found their opener of the future.
Australia have wrapped up a dominant series win with a game to spare after sealing a 247-run victory on day four of the Boxing Day test, but the Black Caps had something to celebrate in the performance of Tom Blundell, who became the first New Zealander to score a century at the MCG with a stellar innings.
You would have been given long odds for Blundell to be the Black Caps' batting star at the start of the series, with the 29-year-old brought on tour as the back-up wicketkeeper, but he received his opportunity thanks to Jeet Raval's poor form, and boy did he make the most it.
The maker of a century on debut in Wellington two years ago, Blundell hadn't played a test since 2017. Now, with two tons in three tests, and an average of 68, he'll be getting all of the opportunities he can handle.
"It was pretty special – it just happened to be my day today, I'm pretty pleased with the way I performed," Blundell said.
"It was a great opportunity to get the nod to open the batting, and I'm just very happy it turned out well."
In an innings where usual standouts Tom Latham (8), Kane Williamson (0) and Ross Taylor (2) all failed to deliver, Blundell stood tall, literally – showing the best resilience against Australia's fearsome fast bowlers with an array of hooks and pulls.
Of his 121, 100 runs came through the legside as he made hay whenever the Australian bowlers strayed into his pads, and he also made the most of a second-ball let-off, after Australia failed to review a rejected lbw shout which ball tracking revealed would have dismissed the opener for a duck.
Instead, he stayed, and prospered on a wicket where no other Black Cap had. Set 488 to win after a brief Australian resumption on day four, the Black Caps added 32 for the first wicket, before Latham (caught behind, wafting at a wide one), Williamson (trapped lbw – the ball barely clipping leg) and Taylor (chopping on to a rubbish ball) all fell in quick succession at the hands of James Pattinson, tumbling the visitors to 35-3.
It looked like a historic humiliation was on the cards, but Blundell found some support to save the slightest of face. He added 54 with Henry Nicholls (33), 72 with BJ Watling (22) and 40 with Mitchell Santner (27), and when he clipped Pat Cummins to mid-on to bring up his century, it provided the Black Caps at least some promise of a competitive display in Sydney.
Despite that, Blundell's dominant display couldn't – and shouldn't - paper over the cracks in this Black Caps performance, as they could only muster 240, not even getting halfway to their required total.
The margin of victory shows just how much needs to be done to even be in the same realm as Australia in the third test, and with Trent Boult ruled out, it's hard to envision a drastically different result in the new year.
However, when the Black Caps needed somebody – anybody – to provide a positive note after a dark few days, Blundell emerged from the gloom as a rare ray of light.