Blackcaps v Australia: NZ series first step towards T20 World Cup triumph for Aussies

In the new normal for professional cricketers, Australia will emerge from coronavirus quarantine on Sunday evening, less than 24 hours before their five-match Twenty20 series against New Zealand begins in Christchurch.

Monday's series opener will be the first international played under lights at Hagley Oval, but the action will begin only after the sellout crowd marks the 10th anniversary of the devastating earthquake that killed 185 people in the city.

After a moment's silence to remember that dark day in the past, the focus will shift resolutely to the future - in particular, the World Twenty20 in October and November.

This is the one global title Australia have never won and the tourists, including three uncapped players, have the chance to prove they deserve a place in the squad to try to put that right in India later this year.

Automatic picks David Warner, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins are absent, after being selected instead for the later aborted test tour of South Africa.

That gives lesser known players the opportunity to show the key attribute of versatility, even if skipper Aaron Finch insists the No.1 priority is series victory.

"The first aim is to win the series," he says. "But there's also a bit of information-grabbing throughout the series, with guys in some different roles, potentially."

New Zealand, who will play in a retro beige kit, have assembled their strongest squad to take on the second-ranked Australians, including pace-bowling sensation Kyle Jamieson and batting mainstay Kane Williamson.

The Blackcaps have never it past the semi-finals at the World T20 and coach Gary Stead believes a "dangerous" Australia, featuring many of the form players from the recently completed Big Bash tournament, will pose a good test.

"You could argue this is the form team of the Big Bash that's over here right now," Stead says.

"Yes, they may not have some of those names that we expect to see, but when you look through their line-up, they're still class right the way through."

A small outbreak of COVID-19 in Auckland last week could still disrupt the series when it moves to New Zealand's largest city on March 5.

While current lockdown conditions would mean no crowd at Eden Park, Australian players coming out of quarantine will probably just be happy for another chance to play.

"The boys are chomping at the bit to get out and start the series," Finch says.


Join us at 7pm Monday for live updates of the Blackcaps v Australian T20 opener