ANY GIVEN MONDAY
In the spirit of the stocking pinned to the end of the bed tomorrow night, today's column will present a selection of tightly-wrapped, inexpensive thoughts because, after all, it's the thoughts that count.
Unless New Zealand improve dramatically with the bat in Melbourne, the long-awaited appearance in the Boxing Day Test could be the lump of coal in the bottom of your Santa sack.
Last week I railed at the shortcomings of day-night test cricket and in particular the performance of the pink ball in twilight. Under those conditions it is reasonable to give the Black Caps' top order a mulligan but the difficulties can't totally mask the feeling that the visitors were ill-equipped to meet Australia's attack.
Being blown away under lights by Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc is one thing; being flummoxed by Nathan Lyon probably carries more long-term concerns.
• Cricket: Black Caps dump Jeet Raval for Tom Blundell for Boxing Day test against Australia
• Cricket greats slam Australia vs Black Caps Boxing Day test 'disgrace'
• Cricket: Black Caps warm-up clash cancelled due to extreme heat
• Paul Lewis: 'Mickey Mouse' Black Caps blowing biggest tour in decades
Jeet Raval's dropping means New Zealand's only chronically out-of-form batsman is removed from the equation but there are a couple of others who could do with a score.
Tom Latham has emerged as one of New Zealand's best openers but he's played six tests against Australia now and averages in the mid-20s with just two 50s. You could come to Australia with an average in the 50s but they don't rate you there until you've scored runs against them.
Henry Nicholls doesn't need to start looking over his shoulder yet, but he could use a score having failed to go past 50 in his last seven knocks. That's not a huge run of outs but when you consider he'd scored four centuries and four 50s in the 14 innings prior to this run, you can imagine he's getting a little toey. His record against Australia is poor also, though with half the sample size of Latham.
Finally, BJ Watling's mentality looks tailormade for taking on Australia in Australia, but he has struggled his way to a sub-20 average in the "lucky" country.
Everybody wants to score runs, but there should be an extra edge for those three.
This idea of the Boxing Day Test being not just a day of cricket but a cultural touchstone is one of the greatest pieces of marketing in sports history.
It evokes images of Victorian-era Victorians in post-Christmas reverie tottering gaily alongside the untamed Yarra carrying picnic baskets stuffed full of cold cuts and hard lemonade on the way to see 'Black Jack' Blackham and Fred 'The Demon' Spofforth take on the auld enemy.
Which is a lovely picture… and complete bollocks.
It was not until the 1980s that the Boxing Day Test became a thing and not until the mid-90s that crowds regularly in excess of 50,000 started turning up to add several Foster's to already distended bellies.
The Boxing Day Test is a phenomenon, but it's a modern one.
There was an astonishing exchange on the UK's Sky Sports football show this morning following another incident of a racist chant or gesture being aimed at a black player, in this case Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger.
In-studio analyst Gary Neville, who has spoken passionately, eloquently and with common sense on the matter in the past again emphasised his point that the groundwork for toxic racism was being laid at the heart of the UK's political institutions, where anti-immigration rhetoric has become a guaranteed vote winner.
Neville's message was very simple and, you would hope, universal: unless we change a negative conversation around different creeds and cultures we are never going to prevent these crass acts occurring.
Neville finished, at which point the cameras went back to Sky host Dave Jones who, presumably under instruction, uttered this: "I am compelled to say they are the opinions of you, Gary Neville, and not those of Sky Sports. That is my duty."
Talk about letting the air out of the balloon.
Honestly, how can someone sensibly tackling the issue of racism in football grounds not be the views of the broadcaster?
Jones later went on to a popular social media platform to apologise for his intervention, but the damage was done.
It didn't take long to reach peak-level Sky Sport v Spark Sport press-release inanity. Last week we received "news" that Sky Sport commentator Ian Smith was… still a Sky Sport commentator.
Thanks for that.
For what it's worth, unless I am sacked or made redundant, I will be returning to the Herald in the New Year (as early as Boxing Day 2019, even). For further information call my agent Luigi Vercotti.
THE MONDAY LONG READ ...
This month I've been rehashing a few yarns from 2019 that I enjoyed writing that you might have missed.
In this piece I outline my reasons for advocating non-contact sport for pre-teens. Plenty disagree. That's fine, just give me your reasons beyond ridiculous "cotton wool" non-facts.
This guy had a remarkable story to tell, and just because you haven't heard of him it doesn't make him any less a sportsman than those more famous.