WELLINGTON: A sense of normality returns to cricket on Friday when New Zealand take on West Indies in their Twenty20 series opener with no restrictions on the crowd size in Auckland, but the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cast a long shadow over the tour.
The global health crisis fractured the buildup to the three Twenty20, two-test series for both sides, with some players only released from isolation on Thursday after returning from the rearranged Indian Premier League.
Also on Thursday, six members of the touring Pakistan squad tested positive for COVID-19 while in managed isolation in Christchurch, highlighting the precarious nature of sports tours during the pandemic.
The fixture list for the West Indies tour is more congested than typical series, with the three Twenty20s to be played over four days before the first test starts on Dec. 3 in Hamilton.
“Three internationals in four days is different,” New Zealand coach Gary Stead told reporters this week.
“In terms of selection, it’s about as complex as I think I’ve ever seen it, and hopefully will ever see it, so there’s plenty of moving parts.”
Stead has rested captain Kane Williamson and pace spearhead Trent Boult for the Twenty20 games. The pair were only released from 14-day isolation on Thursday after returning from the IPL.
Several others, including stand-in Twenty20 captain Tim Southee, will not play the third match in order to join the test squad, while Stead has also had to call in injury replacements.
Mitchell Santner and Daryl Mitchell have been brought into the test squad to replace Ajaz Patel and Colin de Grandhomme.
West Indies coach Phil Simmons has also had to juggle his resources, opting not to choose test captain Jason Holder for the Twenty20 series, while he has had to split his squad due to the late arrival of players from the IPL.
West Indies players not needed for the Twenty20 series are involved in a four-day match against New Zealand ‘A’ that started on Thursday.
“The preparation hasn’t been ideal,” Simmons said.
“We are hoping that we are moving forward even with all the restrictions under COVID.”
Simmons said he had little concern about the IPL group as they had come off a tough tournament and was pleased the rest of the team had a warmup match in Queenstown under their belts.
“It has been about making sure when the IPL group come in that this group is as sharp as they would be coming from a tournament,” Simmons added.
“We have been pushing days a little bit harder than we would normally do to make sure that every one here is as sharp as he can be for Friday.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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