After welcoming the birth of his first child with his partner Sarah Raheem, New Zealand captain Kane Williamson rejoined the side on the eve of the second T20I against Pakistan in Hamilton. The 30-year-old was on paternity leave when New Zealand beat West Indies in the Wellington Test and then beat Pakistan in Auckland to secure a 1-0 lead in the ongoing T20I series.
Williamson described the past week as an "incredibly special" one and looked forward to returning to action on the field. "Obviously, you get a lot of advice on the way on what to expect and you try to take that into account, but you can't quite expect it eh? It's just so amazing, really, to be there through it, and obviously to have a few days at home has been really, really cool," Williamson told NZC. "But at the same time, it's nice to get back with the guys and looking forward to getting involved in some of these T20s."
Williamson was welcomed back by fellow dads Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor, who isn't part of the T20I squad, at the Seddon Park nets.
"There're a lot of guys in the team that now have children," Williamson said. "In a lot of ways, you go through the years and you're all the young guys, and now you're not so young, and you have a few other interests. There's a lot of kids in among the team which is really, really cool.
"It's just an incredibly special experience to have. It's really hard to put words into how you feel and going through it, and the appreciation you have for your wives and partners that are obviously bearing so much of that whole experience."
While bowling coach Shane Jurgensen also joined Guptill and Taylor in embracing Williamson at training, head coach Gary Stead said he was "pleased" for Williamson and Sarah.
"He's quite tired, so a bit bleary-eyed, I think," Stead said. "But, overall he's hitting them well. Just normal Kane - gets about and does his business. It's always nice, I guess, when you welcome a new addition into the family and we're all so pleased for Kane and Sarah. Delighted that everything is well and back in with us in the cricket team as well."
Williamson had also been rested for the three T20Is against West Indies, which kicked off New Zealand's international home summer, after playing a crucial role in Sunrisers Hyderabad's run to the IPL knockouts. In his absence, newbie Devon Conway and Glenn Phillips took charge of the middle order, while Mitchell Santner got his first taste of captaincy. Then, in the series opener against Pakistan on Friday, Jacob Duffy came away with the best figures by a Black Cap on T20I debut.
Williamson was enthused by the progress of the fringe players and hoped to build on the gains made over the last couple of months.
"They've been playing beautifully well and with real energy and the team has changed a bit within the last series and this series," Williamson said. "It has been awesome to see so many new faces step up really, really well. Guys who we've seen in the international scene that have come back in and played with heaps of confidence and that's been really cool to watch. It's great to be back in the fold as a player and catch up with some of the guys and try to build on some of the good work that they've been doing."
As for Stead, he felt that the selection headaches may not be a bad thing as New Zealand tune up for next year's T20 World Cup in India. Other seniors like Tim Southee and Trent Boult are also back in the T20I side, but New Zealand will still be without Lockie Ferguson (injured) and Santner (rested). This could present another chance for the likes of Scott Kuggeleijn and Todd Astle to press their claims for a permanent role in the T20I side.
Kuggeleijn consistently hit speeds north of 140kph and found steep bounce at Eden Park. Earlier this year in the CPL, he varied his pace cleverly and was the top wicket-taker with 17 strikes at an economy of 7.78 for Daren Sammy's St Lucia Zouks. Astle had retired from red-ball cricket in January to focus on his limited-overs career and has been among the most economical bowlers in the 50-over Ford Trophy this season, conceding at only 4.90.
"That's [selection headaches] always a good sign - but the big focus is still the World Cup in 11 months' time or something like that, so that's the end goal," Stead said. But we keep working back from there and that's good that we're creating some good, healthy competition for places. But soon we will get to the point where we actually narrow down what our best team is as well. Every game we do [that] we get a little bit closer to solving those puzzles."
Pakistan had a horror start at Eden Park, losing four wickets in the powerplay, but they got better as the game progressed and made the hosts dig deep. With the first match out of the way, Stead was wary of Pakistan and expected them to get even better.
"I think teams always get better after the first hit-out and I mean they're still a real quality team and certainly not a team we won't be taking lightly," he said. "So, hopefully we improve as well and we get better, but we also expect them to."
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo