A different balance to the side and a new opening combination came together in Wellington
Five series played for New Zealand this season, five series won. Australia pushed them close but their performance in the decider in Wellington was decisive.
That in itself is not insignificant in a year that will include the pressures of a World Cup. The conditions presented by the unusual situation of the match being the fifth in three games on the same pitch was also not without value as it required the team, and captain Kane Williamson, to get creative after their heavy defeat on Friday.
The masterplan revolved around two players who had not previously bowled for New Zealand: Mark Chapman, whose international scalps had come for Hong Kong before Sunday when he removed Glenn Maxwell, and Glenn Phillips who bowled for the first at the top level.
Phillips’ offspin remains more of the work-in-progress but it appears likely to feature in New Zealand’s planning for the T20 World Cup. Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi, the latter named Player of the Series against Australia, are locks in the side but with Williamson’s reluctance to bowl himself other part-time solutions will be valuable.
The combined return for Chapman and Phillips was 4-0-30-1, a much lower economy rate that the struggling Kyle Jamieson had managed before he was left out the rebalanced side for the last match.
“We pride ourselves on adapting fast, when we lost the toss it would have been easy to think we’re behind the eight-ball again but I thought we bowled and fielded exceptionally well,” coach Gary Stead said a couple of days after being critical of them taking a backward step. “I thought some of Kane’s decision making around when he bowled the part-time spinners…was superb.”
New Zealand have two more series remaining in their season – ODI and T20I contests against Bangladesh which stretch into early April – and it seems likely for the T20s that there will be some changes to the squad due to the proximity of the start of the IPL on April 9, although two of those who could feature – fast bowlers Lockie Ferguson and Adam Milne – have IPL contracts.
Hamish Bennett, who was the unused member of the 13-man squad against Australia, can expect to get an outing or two while Chapman could get the chance to send down some more of his left-arm spin conditions permitting.
New Zealand shuffled their batting order for the decider with Devon Conway partnering Martin Guptill in what became a rollicking 106-run stand that sealed the series. Conway took the place of wicketkeeper Tim Seifert, who struggled with the bat and slipped down the order, and Conway having the gloves may be a route explored. Phillips can also keep wicket, but his value in the outfield – and now with his offspin – will likely keep him away from the position.
There is an eagerness in New Zealand for Finn Allen, the 21-year-old Auckland batsman, who has had a prolific time in recent months to be given a chance. He was on standby for the Australia series where there was briefly an injury doubt around Guptill and if Williamson misses the series against Bangladesh due to the IPL there could be an opening.
The emergence of some new match-winners this season has been pleasing for Stead. “The guys have played well against three very good opponents…think it’s exciting that some different players have emerged,” he said. “You look at a Phillips and Conway, they have really stamped their mark on our team. The guys are playing with generally a lot of freedom.
“The quality of your team over a long period is seen in the consistency you play with and I think we’ve got better at that.”
Conway, who made an unbeaten 99 in the opening game of the series against Australia, currently averages 52.28 after nine T20I innings. He will be pushing hard for a place in the ODI side against Bangladesh – a format New Zealand haven’t played since their abandoned tour of Australia a year ago – although the likes of Henry Nicholls (who had an outstanding Ford Trophy), Ross Taylor and Tom Latham have been features of that side.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo