New Zealand's limited-overs players joined the national side for the series against Sri Lanka before returning to action in the Super Smash. ESPNcricinfo looks back at the major talking points in New Zealand's premier domestic T20 tournament
Northern Knights march on
No Tim Siefert. No Anton Devcich. No Scott Kuggeleijn. No Mitchell Santner. No Ish Sodhi. No Chris Jordan. No problem, defending champions Northern Knights still established a six-point lead at the top of the table and surged towards the knockouts. In addition to the aforementioned names, the Knights were also missing top New Zealand internationals like Kane Williamson, Tim Southee, Trent Boult and BJ Watling.
After allrounders Devcich and Jordan both headed across the ditch to link up with Sydney Thunder, the Knights drafted in South African quick Kyle Abbott. He extended his impressive form from the Mzansi Super League (MSL) - where he was the top wicket-taker for Durban Heat - and hit hard lengths to shake up Wellington Firebirds' chase at the Basin Reserve. After opening with a wicket-maiden, Abbott set the scene for Corey Anderson's cutters in the end overs on a slow track.
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When Anderson came onto bowl the 18th over, Wellington needed 29 off 18 balls with six wickets standing. In front of national selector Gavin Larsen, Anderson tipped the match in the Knights' favour with a double-strike. After getting Tom Blundell to hole out to deep midwicket with a slower ball, he got rid of Logan van Beek with a similar change-up to hike the asking rate. Daryl Mitchell followed up his 49 off 41 balls with a slew of cutters and yorkers to close out the game for the Knights.
It is this depth that makes the Knights the "pink-hot" favourites in the competition. Devcich, the top-scorer and top wicket-taker overall for the side in T20s, puts that down to players thrown into the deep-end right from age-group cricket.
"We always play a lot of cricket without our Black Caps and it sort of forces you to play younger guys at the early stage and that makes for good cricketers," Devcich tells ESPNcricinfo. "We still have Daniel Flynn, Dean Brownlie, and Corey Anderson is also around. The learning they [the youngsters] can get from not only the Black Caps and some ex-Black Caps, who are still hungry to succeed for New Zealand and Northern Districts advances them quickly."
Umpiring in focus
After Wellington's wicketkeeper-batsman Tom Blundell reverse-swept a full-toss to Canterbury's Tyler Lortan at backward point at the Basin Reserve, the fielder gesticulated that he wasn't sure if he had caught it cleanly. However, the soft signal from the on-field umpire was out, which surprised many, including James Neesham on Twitter. The TV umpire Derek Walker sided with the soft signal in the end, as there wasn't enough conclusive evidence to overturn it, reopening the debate on soft signals.
How can the soft signal be out when a fielder says they didn't catch it? Bizarre stuff. #BKSuperSmash— Jimmy Neesham (@JimmyNeesh) January 6, 2019
That wasn't the only umpiring blunder. In the match between Otago and Central Districts in Napier, left-arm quick Ben Wheeler shoved his first ball down the leg side, but it wasn't called a wide by Tony Gillies.
Match of the week
The clash between the Knights and Auckland at Seddon Park. After opting to bat, the Knights posted 155 for 9 on the back of Mitchell's 51-ball 78. In reply, Auckland slipped to 115 for 9 in the 17th over, after Kuggeleijn had struck thrice. Will Somerville, who had spun New Zealand to a Test series win in Abu Dhabi, then showed both brawn and brain with the bat to give the Knights a scare.
He farmed the strike and hit Santner for a brace of sixes, leaving Auckland with 20 to get off the final over. Matthew Quick turned over the strike off the first ball, but Somerville couldn't get the next two balls away. Two dots meant the equation now meant the target was beyond Auckland's reach though Somerville cracked the last three balls for boundaries.
Batsman of the week
Central Districts' captain Tom Bruce made a pair of forties to help the side to second place. He smote two massive sixes during his 24-ball 47 in Central Districts' 54-run victory over Otago. The two rasping sixes that nearly landed on the roof were nicely counterbalanced by a cover drive and a scoop over the keeper's head. It took a blinding catch from Anaru Kitchen in the outfield to end Bruce's charge.
Bowler of the week
Wheeler had ushered in 2018 with a call-up to New Zealand's T20I squad. One year later, the left-arm quick is fit-again and is making a case to return to the side although the national seam attack is well-stacked. After undergoing a spinal-fusion surgery - the same procedure that helped extend the career of Shane Bond - Wheeler marked his comeback with eight wickets in four Ford Trophy matches. He has been at it in the Super Smash too, hitting splice-jarring lengths and finding some swing during his 4 for 26 against Otago. Wheeler's economy rate of 6.36 is the best among bowlers who have bowled 15 or more overs this season.