Just four months ago, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor sealed victory in the World Test Championship final, leaving the New Zealand public clamouring for that image of the pair walking off to be immortalised as a statue at the Basin Reserve. New Zealand are now out to have another crack at a world title in the same year, but at this T20 World Cup in the UAE, they will have to do so without Taylor - their joint-most-capped player in T20Is - and there are also some (minor) concerns over Williamson's fitness in the lead-up to the tournament.
New Zealand dominated their most recent home summer, which saw the emergence of Glenn Phillips and Devon Conway, winning 10 of the 13 completed T20Is. From thriving on easy-paced hit-through-the line tracks on small grounds, Williamson's men will have to adapt quickly to the slow, low pitches on bigger grounds in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
It helps New Zealand that ten of their 16 squad players were part of the recently concluded IPL, and they can also draw some confidence from the past. In the 2016 T20 World Cup group-stage game in Nagpur, they benched Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Mitchell McClenaghan to accommodate three spinners in Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi and Nathan McCullum - and stunned India on a rank turner.
While Williamson has already indicated that conditions will decide New Zealand's XI, facing India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh - if they qualify for the tournament proper - will be a tricky proposition.
None of New Zealand's World Cup squad players travelled to Bangladesh, where a Tom-Latham-led second-string side lost the T20I series 3-2. The subsequent tour to Pakistan was called off amid security concerns, minutes before the first ODI was scheduled to begin in Rawalpindi. However, a good chunk of New Zealand's players have been active in franchise cricket, including the IPL, CPL, the Hundred and the Vitality Blast.
Phillips and Conway have evolved into versatile middle-order batters, and a fit Williamson could have a big role to play, but there could be a bit of trouble at the top if Martin Guptill and Tim Seifert can't maximise the powerplay in these conditions. Guptill has played nine T20 games in the UAE, scoring 126 runs at an average of 14 and a strike rate of 104.13. Seifert has had stints with the Knight Riders' franchises in the CPL and IPL but has played just 10 T20s in Asia.
Having recovered from injury and Covid-19, Lockie Ferguson proved his form and fitness for Kolkata Knight Riders in their run to the final in IPL 2021. Ferguson can devour oppositions with his breakneck speed, which most subcontinent teams aren't used to facing. Adam Milne, who was in stellar form in the Hundred, could have added more X-factor to New Zealand's attack, but the team management has instead leaned towards the experience of Boult and Southee, keeping Milne as a reserve bowler.
New Zealand don't have a specialist offspinner although Phillips is open to doing the job against left-handers. Santner was the only New Zealander who didn't get a game in this IPL, but head coach Gary Stead believes he will be able to shake off the rust during the warm-up games.
Kyle Jamieson had impressed with his change-ups in Chennai during the first leg of the IPL, but his T20 form has tapered off since. In his last seven T20s, he has managed just a solitary wicket at an economy rate of 10.09.
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Ferguson aside, Phillips has become a sought-after T20 package. In addition to being the top six-hitter in T20s this year, Phillips is one of the better players of spin in the New Zealand line-up, having honed his skills while working with Ramnaresh Sarwan at the CPL. A back condition has limited his ability to keep wicket in recent times, but he can aggressively patrol the outfield and bowl quickish offspin.
Do New Zealand have enough depth in their squad? They've picked only one reserve player in Milne, and left out compelling T20 options in Colin Munro and Finn Allen. If the ball doesn't swing or seam around, how effective will Boult or Southee be in the UAE?
1 Martin Guptill, 2 Tim Seifert (wk), 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Devon Conway, 5 Glenn Phillips, 6 Jimmy Neesham, 7 Mitchell Santner, 8 Kyle Jamieson/Daryl Mitchell, 9 Lockie Ferguson, 10 Ish Sodhi, 11 Trent Boult/Tim Southee