International cricket is back in New Zealand. The last time they played at home - the Christchurch Test against India that ended on March 2 - the coronavirus had just started to send shockwaves across the globe. And things spiralled very quickly. Their tour to Australia later that month was cut short after a behind-closed-doors ODI in Sydney, and they became the last teams to play an international cricket match before the world went into lockdown.
Four months later, West Indies became the first international side to embark on a tour during the pandemic, when they visited England in July. New Zealand, though, have had to wait despite their relative success at controlling community spread of the virus. Strict protocols are still in place, but - excitingly for the teams, no doubt - they will be playing in front of a crowd.
Both sides will be missing a number of big names due to injury or workload management. Many players coming into the series have hardly played any cricket for a while, while a few others are having to deal with the rigours of moving from one biobubble to another. The IPL returnees hardly got to train with the squad, having finished their quarantine just a day before the series. Both teams will look to shake off the rust and brace themselves for relatively busy schedules over the next 12 months, leading to the 2021 T20 World Cup in India. They will also be looking to begin work on sorting out their best XI and back-up options for that showpiece tournament.
New Zealand LLLLL (Last five completed matches, most recent first)
West Indies WWWLL
In the spotlight
Many have likened the batting style of wicketkeeper-batsman Tim Seifert to that of Brendon McCullum. The big-hitting top-order batsman had an incredible run in the Super Smash last season and also impressed with two half-centuries against India in the T20I series at home earlier this year. He was part of the champions Trinbago Knight Riders side at the CPL and then flew to the UAE to join his IPL team the Kolkata Knight Riders, where he didn't get a chance in the starting XI. McCullum himself, who's the guest coach at the Managed Isolation Quarantine and has been part of the coaching set-up of the Knight Riders' franchise in the IPL as well as the CPL, thinks Seifert is "in for a breakout season for the Black Caps".
Fabian Allen has shown promise, but the last few months have not been easy for him. He was ruled out of the CPL after missing his flight and did not get a chance in the Sunrisers Hyderabad XI in the IPL. The right-handed batsman provides the complete T20 package: a middle-order enforcer and an electric fielder, who can also chip in with his left-arm spin. He has shown flashes of brilliance in previous CPL seasons and in West Indies' domestic games, and has earned high praise from the likes of Ian Bishop. He did show what he is capable of in the limited-overs series against Sri Lanka earlier this year, and now Allen's got a good 12 months to prove why he should get on the flight to India next year.
Kane Williamson and Trent Boult had a great run in the IPL but have been rested for the T20Is. Devon Conway, whose exploits with the bat in the domestic circuit earned him a place in the national side, and pacer Kyle Jamieson could make their T20I debuts in the duo's absence. Colin Munro's Big Bash League commitments kept him out of the squad, so Tim Seifert is set to open with Martin Guptill.
New Zealand (possible): 1 Tim Seifert (wk), 2 Martin Guptill, 3 Glenn Phillips, 4 Devon Conway, 5 Ross Taylor, 6 James Neesham, 7 Mitchell Santner, 8 Tim Southee (c), 9 Kyle Jamieson, 10 Lockie Ferguson, 11 Ish Sodhi
The absence of Andre Russell and Dwayne Bravo has opened up two middle-order spots in West Indies' XI. Allrounder Kyle Mayers could get an opportunity, while Keemo Paul, who had opted out of the series against England, provides another right-arm quick option.
West Indies (possible): 1 Andre Fletcher, 2 Brandon King, 3 Nicholas Pooran (wk), 4 Rovman Powell/Kyle Mayers, 5 Shimron Hetmyer, 6 Kieron Pollard (c), 7 Fabian Allen, 8 Hayden Walsh, 9 Sheldon Cottrell, 10 Oshane Thomas/ Keemo Paul, 11 Kesrick Williams
Pitch and conditions
A run-feast can be expected, but teams defending have not had much luck in recent games at Eden Park. Six of the last seven matches have been won by the chasing team even when the totals have been in excess of 200.
There's a slight chance of a shower in Auckland tomorrow.
Stats and Trivia
- New Zealand have lost their last two bilateral T20I series at home - against India and England. If West Indies beat them here, it will be the first instance of them losing three consecutive T20I series as hosts.
- Kieron Pollard's strike rate of 160.26 across all T20s since the start of 2019 is second-best among the 63 batsmen who have scored 1000-plus runs during this period. Only Russell (174.34) has a better strike rate. Pollard has scored 1944 runs at an average of 38.88 since January 2019.
- Ross Taylor needs 91 more to complete 2000 runs in T20Is and join two other New Zealanders in the club: Martin Guptill (2536) and Brendon McCullum (2140).
"I guess with the schedule we've got, we're obviously looking forward to the back-to-back World Cups coming up. I guess there's going to be a little bit of rotation with the Test boys coming and going. So, give me an opportunity in the future if the other guys aren't available as well."
Mitchell Santner on being given the opportunity to lead New Zealand in the third T20I
"We'll continue being positive and playing our brand of cricket. It's sometimes tough - winning two T20 World Cups and ranking No. 9 in the world is kind of off-balance, but I believe we'll get back up there in the rankings."
Andre Fletcher believes West Indies' T20I ranking doesn't justify their achievements in the format
Sruthi Ravindranath is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo