Blackcaps v Australia: NZ to sink teeth into trans-Tasman archrivals

  • 22/02/2021

By Clay Wilson (RNZ)

The Blackcaps' preparations for the Twenty20 World Cup later this year shift up a gear this week, with the start of a five-match home series against Australia.

While there's still a host of names cricket fans will recognise, the Australian squad have crossed the Tasman without star quartet Steve Smith, David Warner, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc.

But New Zealand's ever-confident archrivals are expected to be more than competitive with the team they have brought.

The Blackcaps feel the same way, with captain Kane Williamson saying the challenge certainly hadn't been diminished in the eyes of their squad.

"There's still plenty of big names, there always are," Williamson says. "The depth in Australia cricket is something that's always noted.

"A number of their newer-look players have had experience playing in other comps around the world as well. We know they're a very strong side."

Australian captain Aaron Finch is certainly optimistic they were up to the task, particularly given they are all fresh off the Big Bash T20 League across the Tasman.

Finch says reputations don't count for as much in the sport's shortest format.

"Having a well-drilled side, having an experienced side, with a little bit of youth in there and a little bit of ignorance, no-one with any baggage... they just go out there and try and smack it and execute under pressure," he says. "That combination of both is really important."

While the Australians miss star power, Blackcaps coach Gary Stead has the services of all his key players, including Martin Guptill, who has the green light to play, after shaking off a hamstring injury.

The struggling opening batsman's selection has been a discussion point, especially given the red-hot form of Wellington up-and-comer Finn Allen, but Finch doesn't expect Guptill's lack of runs to continue.

"With guys, especially ones who are so dynamic at the top of the order, it can take one shot or one innings, and they're back flying again.

"He's someone we're doing a lot of planning and preparation for. You never take anyone with his quality and skill lightly."

Breaking his drought against the world's No.2-ranked T20 team would be a surefire way for Guptill to prove any potential doubters wrong.

Teammate Trent Boult also believes a series against Australia is a good measuring stick for the Blackcaps, with the World Cup in India on the horizon.

"Yeah, a hundred percent," says Boult. "It's probably a little bit different in these conditions, which we know very well, but it's all about grooving the game, the plans and the theories, and seeing what works well for us.

"Although, it's probably going to be totally different at 10 o'clock and 40 degrees in Mumbai in eight months time."

Blackcaps coach Gary Stead agrees the series has arrived at a good time for them.

"It's not the be-all and end-all," says Stead. "That matters when we get to the World Cup.

"But they're No.2 in the world, they're a very good team with class players throughout, so it's a really good test to understand where we are."

Monday night's opening match will also be a chance for the Blackcaps to play their part on the 10th anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake.

The first international in the city since the installation of new lights at Hagley Oval, the game has been sold out for more than a month.

Williamson insists it's special to be playing there on a day when Cantabrians and Kiwis look back on how far the region had come.

"After that time here in Christchurch, there was a lot of rebuilding in a lot of different ways.

"To be here at a cricket ground that was a big part of that growth and play the first game under lights with a full house will be nice to be a part of."


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