Here we go again: New Zealand v England. But this time, the two teams are preparing for the T20 World Cup in Australia next year, with a five-match series in New Zealand.
One of the major worries for New Zealand in the 50-over World Cup was the form - or the lack of it - of their openers. Between them, the openers scrounged 402 runs in 20 innings at an average of 22.33 - the lowest among all sides in the tournament.
Colin Munro has three T20I hundreds and Martin Guptill is among the top scorers in T20Is, but there's still some trouble at the top for New Zealand. Both batsmen are vulnerable against the moving ball in conditions that offer substantial assistance - something that came to the fore in England.
Since the 2016 T20 World Cup, Munro and Guptill have added 602 runs together in 15 innings in the shortest format. Out of the four fifty-plus stands they've forged, three have come on easy-paced bash-through-the-line tracks at home in New Zealand; the other coming on a more challenging pitch in Rajkot. However, in that Rajkot game, Munro was handed at least four chances and he latched onto them to crack a 54-ball century.
Munro and Guptill might be in the last-chance saloon this home season, and there's no Kane Williamson to bail New Zealand out if the openers fail again. The captain has been sidelined from the five-match T20Is series against England with hip injury, and Ross Taylor is still feeling his way back into T20I cricket, having been dropped from the shortest format in 2017.
New Zealand have at least 20 T20Is to identify their opening combination for the T20 World Cup. Munro, coming off a hot-and-cold CPL stint, and Guptill, coming back from injury, will have to contend with the exciting wicketkeeper-opening batsmen Tim Seifert and Glenn Phillips breathing down their necks.
Seifert can not only surge down the track to quicks but also pull off trick shots like his hero Brendon McCullum. He could have given New Zealand an extra opening option in the 50-over World Cup had he been fit. Upon his return, he managed only 38 in three T20I innings in Sri Lanka, but he's eager to not miss out on another World Cup.
Phillips was recently part of New Zealand's winter camp and intra-squad games after enjoying back-to-back bumper CPL seasons for Jamaica Tallawahs. Then, there's the South Africa-born Wellington top-order batsman Devon Conway, who made a triple-century in the four-day Plunket Shield on Wednesday. Conway was also at it in last season's Super Smash, piling up 363 runs in nine innings at an average of 45.37 and strike rate of nearly 145.
He'll be eligible to play for New Zealand in September next year, just before the T20 World Cup, but coach Stead is already so impressed by him that he called him into New Zealand's winter camp.
Stead acknowledged New Zealand's top-order concerns during that pre-season camp. "There's 26 [T20] games between now and the World Cup to get clear on how we want to play, and who are the people that fit into those roles," Stead told stuff.co.nz
"That [top order] is a little problem that we have, that four [including Williamson] doesn't fit into three and that's what we have to work out."
However, with Williamson now out of the picture against England, New Zealand's top three could well be: Guptill, Munro and Seifert. Who'll make an early statement against a new-look England team?
Munro seems to have already made a statement of sorts, with an unbeaten 107 in a successful chase of 189 in the second warm-up fixture in Lincoln. Of particular interest in this series might be the match-up between Munro and legspinner Matt Parkinson. The opener took on Parkinson on Tuesday, hitting 23 off 13 balls against him, and Parkinson's career numbers suggest he is significantly better against right-handers than lefties.
In CPL 2019, Munro found a method to counter his weakness against wristspin: he often shuffled outside the line of the stumps and switched his fortunes. While both the plan and its execution proved successful against Jamaica Tallawahs' Zahir Khan, it didn't quite come off against Barbados Tridents in the second qualifier. Munro jumped across the stumps and ventured a switch-hit, but Hayden Walsh Jr. got some extra bounce and drew a top edge to short third man.
There're no secrets in cricket these days, and England would have taken note of this approach from Munro. The pressure is on him - and Guptill - to get their act together as New Zealand seek to find their building blocks for the T20 World Cup across the Tasman Sea next year.