Lea Tahuhu has been named in New Zealand's 15-member T20 World Cup squad, the quick returning to international cricket after taking a break to be with her partner Amy Satterthwaite, who gave birth to the couple's first child recently. Batter Lauren Down, seamer Jess Kerr, who made her ODI debut two days ago, and medium-pacer Rosemary Mair, who debuted last year, have also been included in the squad, with Sophie Devine named captain.
Wicketkeeper-batter Bernadine Bezuidenhout, who is part of the ODI squad for the ongoing home series against South Africa, has made way for Tahuhu in the T20I squad, which will also play a five-match T20I series against South Africa that begins on February 2 in Tauranga. Down and Kerr could both be in for their maiden T20I caps during the bilateral series.
Tahuhu, among the fastest bowlers on the women's international circuit, had picked up six wickets in as many matches for Canterbury at the Super Smash 2019-20, the domestic T20 tournament, and nine wickets in 15 games prior to that in the fifth edition of the WBBL.
"It's been a whirlwind last couple of weeks - becoming a mum for the first time and everything that goes with it," Tahuhu said in a New Zealand Cricket statement. "I'm very excited to be back around the White Ferns group. I'm grateful of Amy's support back home and can't wait to get stuck in at training ahead of the T20 series against South Africa."
New Zealand head coach Bob Carter was confident the team would benefit from Tahuhu's skills and experience.
"It's great to have her raw speed and experience back in the group," he said. "Lea offers us plenty with the ball and will no doubt hurry a few batters up, especially in Australia on their fast, bouncy surfaces. However, first up we have to contend with South Africa, who have already proven in the ODI series that they are up for the challenge over here. We know we'll have to be at our best to claim the T20 series."
Kerr, the elder sister of allrounder and team-mate Amelia, topped the Super Smash wickets charts, taking 20 wickets for Wellington Blaze, the most in a single season of the tournament. In her maiden international outing, the second ODI against South Africa, she returned figures of 4-1-23-1, dismissing opener Lizelle Lee.
Devine, whose first assignment as New Zealand captain has seen South Africa take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the ODI series, had taken over indefinitely from Satterthwaite earlier this month. Devine, along with Suzie Bates, has featured in every edition of the T20 World Cup since its inception in 2009, but they are yet to add a world title against their names.
"We have a balanced side with plenty of international experience within," Devine said after the squad announcement. "It's up to us to put our best foot forward in these five T20s against South Africa and hone our game before another shot at a World Cup."
New Zealand, who play their third and final ODI against South Africa on Thursday in Hamilton, have been pooled with Australia, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka at the T20 World Cup. They will kick off their campaign against Sri Lanka on February 22 in Perth.