Stretch of T20s a 'window of preparation' for WT20 - Hesson
The five upcoming T20s at home are New Zealand's chance to build depth into their squad ahead of the World T20 in March, coach Mike Hesson has said. New Zealand play two T20s against Sri Lanka to close out that tour, then play three T20s against Pakistan, before moving on to ODIs.
New Zealand are without their first-choice seamer Tim Southee for the Sri Lanka series, after he was ruled out with a foot injury. New Zealand have replaced him in the squad with Matt Henry, whom Hesson said "performed extremely well" in the ODIs just completed, despite having been "down the pecking order a little bit" at the start of that series.
Henry, Trent Boult, Mitchell McClenaghan and Adam Milne are the frontline seamers in the squad for the Sri Lanka games, and will seek to outline their value to the T20 outfit.
"We've got to be able to rely on a number of different players to perform," Hesson said. "With Tim as an example we get injuries from time to time, and we've got to make sure we're good enough that we don't have to change the way we play. We've got a number of quicks. We'll give some players different opportunities during these T20s, and hopefully they will grab them."
Though the Mount Maunganui surface is expected to take some turn on Thursday, conditions in New Zealand are unlike those expected for the World T20 in India. Despite this, the players can still make a case for their inclusion in the World T20 squad in the coming matches, Hesson said.
"You need to consider the conditions, but form is good at any time," he said. "If players are shooting the lights out domestically or playing here, the selectors will be considering it.
"We've probably got a group of about 17 that we're looking at, and we're looking to pick 15 from that. It is completely different conditions from India. There will likely be an extra spinner in the mix - who may or may not play a part in this five-match series."
Thursday's game is also likely to see the return of Corey Anderson to international cricket. Anderson had injured his back during the mid-year tour of England, and will play in this series as a specialist batsman, as he has not yet fully recovered. Anderson has domestic have form with the bat. He hit 88 and 98 for Northern Districts in the opening rounds of New Zealand's List A tournament, over the past eight days.
"It's nice to bring in fresh faces who are confident about their game, and have also done well for us in the past," Hesson said of Anderson. "That'll add some real striking power to our batting line up. It definitely looks more formidable now."
With New Zealand having played only four T20s through all of 2015, Hesson described the stretch of T20s coming up as a rare opportunity. Beyond these games, New Zealand do not have a T20 scheduled again until the warm-up matches in India - though they are hoping to line up an opposition to play in the UAE just before that tournament.
"We just don't play enough T20. You win a couple of games and slide five places up the rankings. When you don't play you don't go anywhere. The fact that we've got five in a row is great - that will be a window of preparation for us. Then we pretty much park it until we get to India."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando