The Super Smash, New Zealand's premier T20 competition ended on Saturday, with Michael Bracewell's Wellington Firebirds successfully defending their title against the Canterbury Kings in front of a packed home crowd at the Basin Reserve. ESPNcricinfo looks back at the major talking points from the tournament.
Wellington's near-flawless title run
After having scrapped to the title in 2019-20, the Firebirds thoroughly dominated this season, securing their fourth domestic T20 crown and second on the bounce at the Basin Reserve.
They launched the season by hunting down 177 against the Auckland Aces on Christmas Eve and simply powered on, with the loss against the Kings in the league phase being the only blemish in their otherwise flawless run.
The Firebirds ran into the Kings again in the final, but Devon Conway, who had watched the season opener from the grass banks after being rested, made a sublime 93 not out off 63 balls to close it out. After having topped the domestic run-scoring charts across formats last season, Conway finished second, behind his opening partner Finn Allen, in this season's Super Smash.
Seamers Hamish Bennett and Logan van Beek led the way with the ball for the Firebirds, claiming 13 wickets apiece at economy rates of under eight per over. Allrounder Jimmy Neesham underwent surgery midway through the season for a compound dislocation on his finger, but he returned with a triple-strike against the Aces in the lead-up to the final.
Van Beek also torched the tournament with his scarcely believable one-handed outfield catch to dismiss the Northern Knights' Brett Hampton.
Overall, the Firebirds won ten out of 11 games, while the next best sides - the Kings and the Central Stags - had only six wins to show for.
Finn Allen the breakout star of the tournament
He was the fire to Conway's ice. He rattled off 512 runs in 11 innings at a stellar strike rate of 193.93, and nobody had more sixes than his tally of 25. Much like Brendon McCullum and his protégé Tim Seifert, the opener regularly dashed down the track to bend attacks out of shape. That Allen could do so against New Zealand internationals suggests that he isn't too far away from making his international debut. A day after winning the Super Smash, Allen was picked in the New Zealand T20I squad as cover for the forthcoming T20I series against Australia.
Allen hit his peak when he smoked a 16-ball half-century against the Stags. Only Kieran Noema-Barnett (14 balls) and Martin Guptill (15) have struck faster fifties in New Zealand's domestic T20 competition.
Is Colin de Grandhomme back in action?
The allrounder, who had been sidelined from the internationals against West Indies as well as Pakistan with a foot injury, was back in action although he didn't bowl. He had last taken the ball in the four-day Plunket Shield in October 2020. He played four games for the Knights as a specialist batsman, making 51 runs at a strike rate of nearly 160.
In a revised chase of 91 from 14 overs against the Kings, he ushered the Knights home along with Kane Williamson. The New Zealand captain later pulled out of the tournament as a precautionary measure after hurting his elbow.
Did Taylor do enough to force his way back into the T20I side?
After being dropped from the T20I squad, Ross Taylor was asked to prove his form in the Super Smash. He returned to the competition after four years, and had mixed returns: 125 runs in six innings at a strike rate of nearly 165. Although Taylor showed signs of his best during his 25-ball half-century for the Stags against the Kings, he fell for a duck in the preliminary final as the Stags crashed out. With the younger players like Conway and Glenn Phillips stepping up for the New Zealand middle-order role, and Allen too throwing his hat into the T20 World Cup ring, Taylor probably needs to do more if he is to win his spot back.
Give me a rundown of the New Zealanders in the IPL auction shortlist
All up, 20 New Zealanders have made the cut with Kyle Jamieson, Tim Southee and Corey Anderson in the top bracket, listing their base prices at INR 75 lakh ($US 103,000 approx.). Jamieson, who enjoyed a bumper home season, particularly with the ball, could be a hot pick among the overseas quicks. In January, coach Gary Stead, who has overseen Jamieson's progress from his domestic side Canterbury to the national team, reckoned that the presence of New Zealand coaches in the IPL might be "one of the advantages" for him.
The likes of Guptill, Neesham, Phillips, de Grandhomme and Conway have set their base prices at INR 50 lakh (US$ 69,000 approx.). Colin Munro and Adam Milne, who had impressive stints in the Big Bash League across the Tasman Sea, will also invite bids from INR 50 lakh.
Meanwhile, Super Smash champion Allen and Stags allrounder Josh Clarkson are in the auction with reserve prices of INR 20 lakh (US$ 27,500 approx.).
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo