Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
England's summer in the Southern Hemisphere began with the Test match at the Gabba. Mark Stoneman and James Vince gave them an excellent platform with encouraging half-centuries, adding 125 together, before failing to go on. England never had a foothold in the Ashes after that.
Fast forward five months and the match situation is somewhat better - they lead by 231 runs and are well placed to push for a series-levelling victory and have something to show for their efforts with the pink and red ball. But for Stoneman and Vince, there is a feeling of deja vu. Half-centuries apiece, a stand of 123, the promise of more, but frustrating dismissals.
Stoneman had significant fortune in his innings - dropped on 48 and 57 - but couldn't make it count when he finally paid the price for flashing outside off. Vince played with increasing confidence during his third Test fifty - all of which have come at the No. 3 position - after regaining his place that he had to forego due to the batting reshuffle at Eden Park. As ever, the drives were working well and, almost as inevitably, one brought his downfall when he edged to slip with a spot-sealing maiden Test hundred on offer.
"Going forward, I'm sure both would have loved to have got hundreds and gone on for themselves and their confidence," Graham Thorpe, the England batting coach, said, "but they'll still get good pat off us in the dressing room because it's easy to shrink sometimes at this level so it was important they stood up and continued to play in a positive manner."
Stoneman now has five Test fifties - including two in this series - but none higher than this 60 while Vince averages 30.54 at No. 3 from his six Test against Australia and New Zealand. Since Trevor Bayliss took over in 2015, there has been one century from the opener who isn't Alastair Cook (and his form is heading south) or the No. 3 who isn't Joe Root - Keaton Jennings' 112 on debut against India (Adam Lyth's hundred against New Zealand came while Paul Farbrace was in temporary charge).
There are alternative names who will be mentioned in the lead-up to the next series, against Pakistan in May, and a strong start to the domestic season could attract interest despite England Lions being beaten 3-0 by West Indies in the four-day matches. Liam Livingstone has been on this tour - he is not someone for the top three but the batting order is also far from settled - while the likes of Haseeb Hameed, Joe Clarke, Dan Lawrence and Nick Gubbins will be touted. Recently capped players such as Jennings and Tom Westley could also restate their credentials.
However, both incumbents have probably done enough to mean they will start against Pakistan, but England will leave this tour without really having a clearer picture about the best way forward for their top order.
"They are in the side so they are in charge of their destiny every time they walk to the crease so the more experience they gain they are in a position to go to that next level," Thorpe said. "Ultimately it's up to them to take that next step and go towards three figures.
"There are areas of the Test side where we aren't going to say everyone is guaranteed places. We are constantly trying to get more out of players who are in the starting XI. You have to look at your squad and think are there better players out there or do we have to keep working hard. We have to be patient with players, the more you learn you do get over those hurdles in Test cricket and start to feel very settled. We are hoping a few of them are close to that with the Tests they are starting to play."
England arrived in Australia with a batting line-up in a state of flux and will leave New Zealand in the same position. The attacks of Pakistan and India await. They will sense vulnerability.
New Zealand vs England
England in Australia and New Zealand