"In terms of putting up results, we've just not learned anything on tour," Daniel Vettori said after the game, and that pretty much summed up the outing with which New Zealand signed off a disappointing tour.
The common mantra during New Zealand's stay has been the need to learn from mistakes and play positive cricket, rather than letting defeat lead to further disappointment. After New Zealand beat Sri Lanka 2-0 in the Twenty20 internationals, Vettori validated that theme by crediting a tremendous turnaround and hoped to make the final of this tri-series keeping the Champions Trophy in mind. However, there appeared to be only one team that went for the jugular today. Unfortunately for New Zealand, it wasn't them.
Faced with a must-win scenario, they won the toss and batted. But their display in the first 15 overs of the match was so shockingly poor that they deserved what they got - nothing at all. India were in a celebratory mood as early as the first over, when Ashish Nehra trapped a leaden-footed Jesse Ryder lbw. He followed it up by having Brendon McCullum also lbw, to one that didn't swing, and an indifferent start became a poor one when Ross Taylor flirted fatally with an RP Singh delivery.
The bowling was very sharp, but not menacing. On a sluggish track that offered no malice, New Zealand's batsmen simply failed to play proper cricket against accurate bowling. Ryder and McCullum's feet went nowhere against the kind of sharp left-arm bowling they've faced for a fair amount of time on this tour. Ryder's dismissal was a replica of how he was out in the last game. Martin Guptill, not for the first time in Sri Lanka, was out to an innocuous delivery before even judging the turn and pace of the track.
Grant Elliott got a bad ball, adjudged caught down the leg side off his pads, but what had happened before was shocking. By the time Elliott was dismissed the damage had been done, thanks to another poor display of batting from a line-up struggling for form and confidence. Jacob Oram popped up a simple return catch to Ishant Sharma when he came back for a second spell. Yuvraj was called back and struck first ball, as Neil Broom gently chipped to midwicket.
New Zealand's batting card pretty much summed up the tour they've had: the message just hasn't seem to get across. "I don't want to go on like a broken record, but we've consistently put ourselves under pressure with the bat all series," Vettori said. "Today we needed someone to go and get an unbeaten 70 or 80 but that didn't happen. It'll kill you in any game, not getting partnerships. Unfortunately, nobody stood up. It's frustrating."
New Zealand came into this series as the No.4 team in the world. They had won three of their last four one-day series. They were apparently confident after winning the Twenty20s. Two walloping defeats later they look visibly shell-shocked. New Zealand have been surprised, it seems, by the ferocity of cricket played by Sri Lanka and India in two games. They crashed out of the series today due to the uncertainty and instability in their style of play.
Where did it all go wrong? Look back to Tuesday, when after having Sri Lanka in deep strife at 69 for 5 they managed to capitulate to a 97-run defeat. The batting was woeful - New Zealand lost two wickets in one over and three in another - and that handed the momentum back to Sri Lanka. Andy Moles, New Zealand's coach, wasn't happy that night and insisted there were no easy answers as the team continued a downward spiral in the one-day game.
The most vivid impression they have left through the tour is of an incongruent bunch of individuals, just not entirely with it when they take the field. Some of New Zealand's younger and inexperienced players just looked overawed in alien conditions. There has been the odd flourish, notably in the Twenty20s, but the lack of direction is stark. Repeatedly, batsmen have been dismissed in the same manner. New Zealand's line-up has struggled against left-arm pace. They have appeared torn between attack and defence. Having been in Sri Lanka near six weeks, it looked like they'd arrived on the same day as India when the batsmen faced up this afternoon.
The series has been lost, but what has been gained? What has a player like Guptill taken from this tour? He struggled in all three formats, not once really making his presence felt. After showing glimpses of genuine talent against West Indies and India at home, he now resembles a walking wicket. What can the likes of Elliott and Broom, who were restricted to a couple of games, taken from watching their more experienced team-mates struggle?
These are but a few questions facing Vettori and Moles as they enter a new chapter, as national selectors. The situation isn't by any means unsalvageable, but it's hard to see where the change is going to come before they play hosts South Africa - the No. 1 side in ODIs - at Centurion in two weeks.