Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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The Super Smash, New Zealand's premier domestic T20 competition kicked off on December 22, with the women playing alongside the men in double-headers for the first time. Martin Guptill and Mitchell Santner returned from injuries while allrounder James Neesham and wicketkeeper-batsman Tim Seifert celebrated their call-ups to the New Zealand ODI squad. ESPNcricinfo looks back at the week gone by.
Look who're back
After being sidelined for nine months with knee injury, Santner marked his return to competitive cricket with a match-winning all-round effort for Northern Knights. In the tournament opener against Wellington Firebirds, Santner first made an eye-catching cameo with the bat (22 not out off 13 balls) and then came away with figures of 0 for 28 in three overs. He showed no apparent signs of discomfort and even ventured hard-run twos in addition to claiming two catches in the outfield.
In his second match against Central Districts, Santner missed a straight ball from left-arm spinner Felix Murray and was bowled for a duck. Santner, though, impressed with the ball, finding turn and dip on a slow Bay Oval track to end with figures of 2 for 25 in his four overs. However, it was not enough for the Knights to defend 156.
Guptill has had an eventful couple of weeks. After being picked up by Sunrisers Hyderabad in the accelerated round of the IPL 2019 auction, he has been passed fit for the ODI series against Sri Lanka. He had missed the limited-overs series against Pakistan in the UAE due to a calf injury.
In his first competitive match after a stint with Barbados Tridents in the Caribbean Premier League, Guptill lit up the Pukekura Park with a blazing 71 not out off 51 balls in Auckland's chase of 108. Guptill was paricularly severe on seamer Blair Tickner, taking him for 22 off 11 balls. He secured the chase in style, with a hat-trick of fours off Seth Rance.
"I was a wee bit rusty to start with but nice to see the boys to the end," Guptill said of his knock. "It wasn't the kind of wicket when you could stand and hit through the [line of the] ball. It was a tough wicket to strike."
Seifert, Neesham shine in the spotlight
Seifert was central to Northern Knights claiming the 2017-18 Super Smash title, having cracked 323 runs in 10 innings at a strike rate of 146.81. More recently, he had provided the finishing kick for New Zealand A against India A and was recalled into New Zealand's ODI squad. He celebrated his comeback with scores of 46 and 55 against Wellington Firebirds and Central Districts respectively. The fifty in particular was filled with inventive scoops and sweeps.
Neesham followed his title-winning exploits (503 runs at an average of 63.87 and a strike rate of 111, and 13 wickets with an economy rate of 5.81) in the List A Ford Trophy with career-best T20 figures of 4 for 24 for Wellington Firebirds against Otago.
Match of the week
Wellington Firebirds shot themselves on their foot to lose by one run at the Basin Reserve to Otago. How did it even come to this after Wellington were cruising at 107 for 0 in the 11th over, chasing 168? Opener Michael Bracewell's wicket triggered a dramatic collapse as Wellington lost 9 for 59.
Needing 11 to win off the last over bowled by seamer Nathan Smith with three wickets in hand, Wellington managed six off the first three balls. Smith then conceded a wide and a leg-bye, but hit back to remove both batsmen Luke Woodcock and Jeetan Patel off successive balls to leave the hosts heartbroken.
Batsman of the week
Northern Knights' captain Dean Brownlie launched the season with a 46-ball 99 against Wellington Firebirds in a 45-run victory. He blitzed 10 fours and six sixes, hoisting his side to 215 for 6 - their highest total in T20s. He looked set to become the third Northern Knights batsman, after Kane Williamson and Seifert, to hit a T20 hundred but ended up chopping on against Neesham in anti-climatic fashion.
Bowler of the week
He's currently living every street cricketer's dream: open the batting as well as the bowling. While he hasn't yet fired with the bat so far in the Super Smash, he has been effective in the Powerplay. On a Seddon Park pitch where 10 bowlers from the two teams conceded seven or more runs an over, Devcich came away with 4 for 27 in his four overs.