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New Zealand beat Australia by 53 runs in the opening Twenty20 international played in Christchurch Monday. Devon Conway amassed an unbeaten 99 off 59 deliveries to lead the Black Caps to a total of 184 for five.

Kane Williamson’s side got off to a weak start after losing
the toss.

The Australians were dismissed for 131 in 17.3 overs. New Zealand leg-spinner Ish Sodhi claimed four scalps, giving away only 28 runs.

Australia captain Aaron Finch refused to blame the loss on
his team’s two-week Covid-19 quarantine upon arrival in New Zealand.

“It feels like a long time since we played but we were
treated brilliantly (in quarantine),” he said.

“They just ran harder and we didn’t get it right.”

Jhye Richardson, fresh from signing a multi-million dollar
Indian Premier League contract, was the pick of the Australian bowlers, taking
two for 31.

But the tourists could not dislodge Conway, whose 59-ball
knock included 10 fours and three sixes, helping the Black Caps bounce back
from 19 for three.

Conway said he was “pretty chuffed” with his
career-best effort, even though he was stranded just short of a century after
failing to take two runs off the final ball.

The South African-born batsman came to the crease with New Zealand
teetering at 11 for two and was still settling in when captain Kane Williamson
departed for 12.

“The key was to try to stay positive, that’s when I’m
at my best,” Conway said.

“I was trying not to think too far ahead and just build
good partnerships.”

The frustrated Australians then suffered a horror show early
in their innings, as seamers Tim Southee and Trent Boult tore through the top
order.

Luckless debutant Josh Philippe departed for two after
sending a top-edge skyward.

But old campaigners such as skipper Aaron Finch and Glenn
Maxwell also failed to deal with the swinging ball and the tourists were soon
four for 19.

Mitch Marsh top-scored with 45 and Ashton Agar contributed
23 a string of batting failures gave New Zealand a comfortable win.

While trans-Tasman bragging rights are up for grabs, both
teams also enter the series with one eye on the T20 World Cup in India later
this year.

Established Australian stars such as Steve Smith, David
Warner and Mitchell Starc are being rested as selectors look to unearth new
talent.

New Zealand have a more settled line-up, though veteran
opening batsman Martin Guptill will be under pressure after his poor run of
form continued with a duck in the opening over.

The Black Caps may turn to uncapped Finn Allen for the next
match in Dunedin on Thursday.

Abdul Gh Lone

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