ANY GIVEN MONDAY
Thirty-two more years, boys.
That's how long it took for New Zealand to secure a prized invitation to the Boxing Day Test; it's about as long as it will take to get over this one.
This was a performance of feckless submission. Not a session was won. It was a notable only for the muted body language of the defeated.
The phrase "up for the occasion" is nebulous and overused but for large chunks of the showpiece test it felt like the only visitors who were "up" for it were the 20,000 great New Zealanders who bought tickets.
They knew this wasn't just another test.
Take away Neil Wagner's brimstone and there were shades of the Bracewell-Vettori-era joylessness about New Zealand in the field.
• Brilliant Blundell shines, but Black Caps destroyed again
• Spin is in: Trent Boult's replacement revealed
• Brendon McCullum's shock Williamson claim
• What went wrong: Williamson's 'grim' response after MCG mauling
Australia were the better team – are a better team. It doesn't matter what the rankings say, in home conditions you wouldn't swap out many of their players for New Zealand's. That's a blunt fact, but if the lack of execution of basic skills under pressure was the most obvious manifestation of the mismatch, it only scratched the surface of the issues.
Sometimes skills fail you. Even very good players – which New Zealand's are – know and accept there are times when the batsman you're bowling to will be better than you; that world-class bowlers will get you out.
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Even with that caveat, the batting was borderline clueless. It was impossible to discern a top- or middle-order plan in the first innings beyond trying not to get out. There was no strike rotation - sometimes the quick single is the counterpunch.
There was no sense that anybody was armed with rock-solid information as to how Australia were trying to get them out.
None of the disquiet that was felt when the tenuously qualified Peter Fulton was invited into the national coaching set up will have been dispelled. His first major overseas assignment has been an unmitigated failure. He doesn't have to wear all of it (cue up the cliché about the coach not being able to go out and bat for them), but must shoulder some of it.
The first session on Saturday was so hard to watch that you began to envy neighbours building retaining walls under the scorching sun.
It speaks volumes as to how insufficient the preparation has been that BJ Watling, an impenetrable wall on the docile pitches of Mt Maunganui and Hamilton just a month ago, is not just defending regularly from the splice up, but is looking genuinely surprised by the bounce.
Let's give New Zealand a small break here.
Australia's attack is outstanding. Pat Cummins is well on his way into carving himself into the pantheon of Australian fast-bowling greats, while Nathan Lyon already has a claim as the country's greatest finger spinner. When everything is going right, Mitchell Starc might be the most talented of the lot.
Batting is not easy.
Great attacks can make good line-ups look silly in home conditions. It happens. For New Zealand to be competitive, their best player had to have a series similar to last time he toured but Kane Williamson has not fired a shot, nor looked likely to.
Which is a guileless segue to the longer term cause for concern: the state of mind of the skipper. We get there, curiously enough, via the mouth of the former skipper, Brendon McCullum.
His remarks on the second day of the test match, after he watched in stunned disbelief as Williamson opened up the second session with back-up keeper-batsman Tom Blundell's rank offspin, were bang on but require context.
There is not a bigger admirer of Williamson than McCullum. The former skipper believes Williamson is not only the country's batting nonpareil, but rates his strategic brain far more highly than his own. He would not have chosen these words lightly.
"He's been a slightly reluctant leader at times and I just noticed a bit of a trend where he doesn't look to me as though he's really enjoying the role as much as what he has in the past. And that can be a build-up of many things and playing Australia in Australia can be one of them."
McCullum's words tally with chatter around the traps. It has been mentioned more than once by those who know Williamson far better than I that he finds some aspects of the role, particularly off the field, an increasing burden.
If ever there is a time when those feelings will be magnified, it is in Australia when you're also struggling for form.
Williamson might be one of the most even-tempered cricketers we've produced, but the camera caught him looking uncharacteristically peeved while directing the field in Melbourne.
In isolation, a couple of weird tactics and the occasional look of disgruntlement would be meaningless. When you add the portentous comments from a former teammate who knows him better than most, then you'd be silly to discount it.
The question has to be asked in New Zealand's high-performance set up whether Williamson and a coaching staff led by Gary Stead are simpatico? Robust discussions around personnel and preparation decisions also need to be had, including:
•How does NZ go into a test in Australia carrying three wicketkeepers and not one specialist red-ball spinner?
•Why did the clearly out-of-form and low-on-confidence Jeet Raval play in Perth?
•Who agreed to an itinerary that opened with a pink-ball test?
•Why was so much emphasis placed on new-ball swing when Australia do the bulk of their damage with seam?
Or maybe we just accept that this is just what playing Australia in Australia can do to you and move on?
This is not a bad New Zealand side, after all. One of the best. Just this year they have been a nonsense rule away from a World Cup and completed a rare test series win over England.
Maybe it was just the worst possible time for regression to the mean?
Whatever the case, New Zealand has a chance to redeem themselves at the second cathedral of Australian cricket, the SCG, starting on Friday.
They might not win, but they must win back respect by looking as if they want to be in the contest.
THE MONDAY LONG READ ...
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