In pursuit of unity
Like the clients of a particularly up-market dating agency, the world's cricket teams have been beautifully matched in recent weeks.
In South Africa the world's two best Test teams are engaged in a dramatic two-act struggle. In Australia it's third taking on fifth and in the Arabian peninsula, the mid-table maybes of Pakistan are hosting fellow middle-of-the-roaders Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, at the bottom of the planet, there is the fascinating battle of the basement, the rumble in the remedial class. New Zealand won the Test series, but there was a reason for that West Indian defeat, as Dwayne Bravo explained:
"The team was lacking in unity lately, hence the reason we have been playing so poorly."
You have to feel sorry for anyone in charge of a touring cricket team. After weeks of trudging hotel corridors, they are still contractually obliged to appear upbeat, and to find ever more inventive methods to persuade a motley collection of the mutinous, the homesick, the egotistical, the lazy, the obsessive compulsive - and the occasional psychopath - to throw themselves around at their next training session as though it were their last, even though there are a dozen more before they get to stagger into Auckland Airport departure lounge.
So in the name of unity, Dwayne made his team spend their Christmas morning watching a Morgan Freeman film. It wasn't a bad Morgan Freeman film, but still, it wasn't particularly festive. Given the bedraggled nature of this particular touring squad, and the pressing need for a happy ending, perhaps the Muppets Christmas Carol might have been a better choice.
The pursuit of unity has not stopped at Morgan Freeman films, however. At every team huddle, it is now mandatory for someone to say something positive. So, for example, Lendl Simmons might say:
"Lovely earrings, skipper, did you get them in the sales?"
To which the captain may reply:
"Thank you for noticing, Lendl. You don't think they're too flashy? I wasn't sure they'd work with this necklace."
"Oh you've nailed it, definitely skip, I think you look the business."
Murmurs of manly affirmation from the huddle.
"Well thank you boys, that means a lot to me. Now let us go forward in a spirit of unity and remember that there's no 'me' in unity, and even though there is an 'i' in unity it's a small 'i'."
"Unless you write it in capitals."
"Unless you write it in capitals, Denesh, thank you for pointing that out."
Dwayne is keen, but you have to wonder whether all this enforced camaraderie and compulsory bonding is necessary. It might have been easier just to remind his team that they were playing New Zealand, and therefore all that is required is to turn up on time consistently and sooner or later their opponents would do the rest.
Invited to collapse first on Boxing Day, New Zealand duly obliged in a stirring display that reeked of a pressing need to return to the dressing room, as though the entire Black Cap XI were taking part in a government information broadcast on urinary frequency.
Jesse Ryder extended his ODI records by seven balls and no runs. Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson confused one another into a run-out. Luke Ronchi holed out to square leg and looked as though he was going to give Luke Ronchi a damn good talking to later, and James Neesham chipped the ball to mid-off with a craftsman's precision.
Only the McCullums offered any fight. Brendon looked on with despair for most of the innings, like the only member of the cast of a school play who could remember his lines, and Nathan gave things a bit of late-order oomph, but 156 was never going to be enough and Dwayne's newly unified team cruised to victory, losing just eight wickets along the way.
Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here