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Super Smash 101: Chance for NZ's hopefuls to boost T20 WC claims

Notable transfers? Players to keep an eye on? We set the scene for New Zealand's premier domestic T20 competition

Deivarayan Muthu
James Neesham reacts in the field, New Zealand v Bangladesh, 2nd ODI, Christchurch, February 16, 2019

James Neesham reacts in the field  •  Getty Images

The 2019-20 Super Smash kicks off on December 13, when reigning champions Central Stags take on former champions Northern Knights. While the cream of New Zealand's line-up will be with the Test side across the Tasman Sea, some of the white-ball players will look to press their claims for T20 World Cup spots. ESPNcricinfo sets the scene for New Zealand's premier domestic T20 competition
When does the tournament begin?
On Friday, and will run until January 19, 2020. Both men and women from Northern Districts, Central Districts, Auckland, Otago, Canterbury, and Wellington will contest in a ten-game round-robin stage. The top-three sides from the round-robin stage will then progress to the playoffs.
According to the Super Smash website, more than 40 T20s will be broadcast live on Sky TV. This is a 95% increase on last season overall and includes a 170% increase in women's Super Smash coverage.
Will the New Zealand stars be in action?
Kane Williamson & co. will be in Australia until January 7 and it remains to be seen if they make themselves available for the playoffs, should their teams make it there. However, the likes of Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Jimmy Neesham, Daryl Mitchell and Tim Seifert will lend some spark to the tournament.
"All the BlackCaps not involved in the Test series over in Australia are available for these games so it's going to be a huge game first-up," Central Stags left-arm fingerspinner Ajaz Patel said in the lead-up to the season.
What's the reward for performing in this Super Smash?
Spots for the T20 World Cup in Australia next year will be up for grabs. India are set to tour New Zealand for an eight-match limited-overs series, including five T20Is, which will kick off less than a week after the Super Smash ends. So, those who produce strong performances in the domestic T20 competition could well be in contention for the T20I series at home against India.
That was the case in the last season as well. The likes of Knights wicketkeeper-batsman Seifert and his team-mate Mitchell, the allrounder, Blair Tickner, the Stags quick, all forced their way into New Zealand's white-ball squads after impressing in the Super Smash.
Can these three do it all over again and keep their international spots? Seifert, in particular, might be under some pressure after his failed scoops in the Super Over against England in New Zealand's most-recent T20I. Auckland Aces' wicketkeeper-batsman Glenn Phillips will jostle with Seifert for an international spot.
Phillips had played for New Zealand in November 2018, but his recent white-ball form is getting to a stage where it can be just too hard to ignore. Phillips was the leading run-getter for Jamaica Tallawahs in CPL 2019, hitting 374 runs in 10 innings at an average of 37.40 and a strike rate of nearly 145.
More than the numbers what stood out was his Steven Smith-esque trigger movement that upset the lines and lengths of bowlers and produced some crazy, unorthodox strokes. It was also on bright display for New Zealand A against a Jofra Archer-led English attack in the tour game and more recently in the 50-overs Ford Trophy.
Any other players you need to keep an eye on?
Tom Blundell and Devon Conway. From having bolted into New Zealand's World Cup squad, Blundell has slipped down the pecking order. However, he has a variety of strokes in his repertoire, including the sweeps and scoops, and had previously won the Super Smash with Wellington in 2016-17.
Conway, the 28-year-old South African-born Wellington top-order batsman, dominated the Plunket Shield with a remarkable triple-hundred in October.
Conway also piled up 363 runs in nine innings at an average of 45.37 in the last Super Smash season, at a 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 Gary Stead is already so impressed by him that he called him into New Zealand's winter camp.
Any notable transfers which I might have missed?
Big-hitting allrounder Corey Anderson has shifted from Northern Districts to Auckland, further depleting the men in pink, who will be without many of New Zealand players for the start of the season. Kyle Jamieson, the beanpole quick who returned record figures of 6 for 7 last season, has moved from Canterbury and will join Anderson at Auckland.
So, who are the favourites: Knights or Stags?
Knights and Stags have contested the final in the past two seasons, winning a title each. The Knights know what it takes to win big moments - even without the New Zealand stars - as do the Stags, who have quite a few upcoming New Zealand stars in their line-up. So, one can't really separate the two for now. How about a third straight final to settle the score?

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo