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The absence of key all-rounder Marcus Stoinis due to a nagging back issue casts a shadow over the Australian cricket team’s preparations for the upcoming T20I series against New Zealand. Stoinis, a pivotal figure in Australia’s T20 setup, faces recurring injury concerns, raising questions about his availability and fitness for the upcoming T20 World Cup. His ability to both bat effectively and contribute with crucial wickets has been invaluable in past tournaments, but his consistent battle with injuries remains a cause for concern.

Stoinis tweaked his back in the warm-up of the second T20I against West Indies in Adelaide last Sunday but was still able to play. He made 16 off 15 with the bat but played a role in feeding the strike to Glenn Maxwell in an 80-run stand before picking up 3 for 36 to continue his excellent bowling form.

In Stoinis’s absence, attention turns to Aaron Hardie, who earns a call-up as a replacement. Hardie, currently showcasing his skills in a Sheffield Shield match, seizes the opportunity to stake his claim for a spot in the T20 World Cup squad. Vice-captain Matthew Wade’s temporary absence due to the impending birth of his child adds another layer of complexity to Australia’s lineup. While his absence in the first game is a blow, the team expects his return for the subsequent matches, providing stability behind the stumps and experience in the batting order.

As Australia navigates through these challenges, the return of seasoned players like Steven Smith and Travis Head injects experience and depth into the squad. With the team aiming to solidify their best lineup ahead of the World Cup, Smith and Head are poised to make significant contributions at the top of the order.

However, injury concerns continue to linger, with spin bowling all-rounder Matthew Short facing uncertainty due to a hamstring injury suffered during the ODI series against West Indies. The fragility of some key players underscores the importance of depth and versatility within the squad, with players like Hardie stepping up to fill potential gaps.

In the bowling department, the return of Nathan Ellis from a rib injury provides a boost, offering valuable support to the likes of Hazlewood, Starc, and Cummins. With a keen eye on managing player workload and fitness, Australia’s selectors carefully weigh their options, considering the long-term implications leading up to the World Cup. Steven Smith and Travis Head both return to the T20 side for the New Zealand tour after resting from the West Indies. The three-match T20I series against New Zealand is set to start from February 21.