The Black Caps return to action on Thursday after seven months away, starting their season with a Twenty20 against Pakistan. Niall Anderson looks at five key questions they will need to answer this international season.

1. Can the Black Caps win tests away from home?

Like most teams, they have been strong at home, but have significantly struggled away of late. Since the start of 2013, they have won just five of 21 away tests - four of those coming against Zimbabwe and the West Indies. In their last four away tests, in 2016, they suffered losses by 178, 197, 204 and 321 runs. Three tests against a quality Pakistan side will be an excellent gauge of improvements.

2. Can Ross Taylor maintain his scoring form?


Taylor turns 35 in March, but showed little signs of slowing last season, averaging 83 in 12 ODIs, including a famous 181 not out against England, and he brought up his 17th test century against the West Indies. Taylor is 15 tests away from his goal of playing 100, but since 1990, only three Kiwi batsmen have played test cricket after turning 35: Peter Fulton (three tests), Luke Ronchi (three) and Nathan Astle (two).

3. Can the test openers be trusted?

Tom Latham snapped a somewhat lean run with 83 in the final test of last season against England and deserves security in his role, but despite a solid start to his test career, Jeet Raval failed to reach 20 in his last four test innings and hasn't been entirely convincing to date. While Raval could come under pressure, the problem for new coach Gary Stead is a common one - there are no standout candidates bashing down the door in domestic cricket.

4. Who will keep at the ODI World Cup?

Latham is the incumbent, but his ODI record - averaging 33 at a strike rate of 82 - isn't overly flash. BJ Watling still harbours ambitions of making the World Cup but is unlikely to be a quick enough accumulator to earn short-form selection, and the door could be left ever so slightly ajar for the powerful young duo of Tim Seifert and Glenn Phillips to make a charge.

5. Will Matt Henry break through?

While depth is a concern in several areas, New Zealand are exceptionally well stocked with bowlers. Henry has been the latest to earn calls for a spot in the test team, after a stellar English county cricket season with Kent saw him take an absurd 75 wickets at 15.48. However, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner are surely locks to be selected, and Tim Southee produced figures of 4-25 and 6-62 against England in March, and will likely get first crack in the opening test against Pakistan. Short-form cricket is a different story, though, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see New Zealand use more than 10 seamers in all formats this season, such is the talent available for Stead to select.