Pakistan set for late entrance
Match factsSeptember 23, 2012
Start time 1530 local (1000 GMT)
Pakistan, we've been expecting you. The team with the best World Twenty20 record is the last to open its campaign in Sri Lanka. Pakistan have World Twenty20 pedigree. In the first tournament in 2007, they were finalists, and so nearly champions. They won in 2009, and in 2010 they had one foot in the final before Michael Hussey blind-sided them.
They've been put in the toughest group in 2012, with New Zealand and Bangladesh, and will play their first game against the stronger of those teams. Win against New Zealand, and Pakistan are almost certain to make it to the Super Eights; lose, and they will face a must-win against Bangladesh.
The strength of Mohammad Hafeez's side is unquestionably its bowling. In Saeed Ajmal, Umar Gul and Shahid Afridi, three bowlers of varied skills, Pakistan possess the highest wicket-takers in Twenty20 internationals. Any of those bowlers can turn a Twenty20 game single-handedly and a collective performance can be devastating. Their batting is less formidable; it can be hot or cold. In the two warm-ups for the World Twenty20, Pakistan chased 186 successfully against India but failed to achieve 112 against England. The challenge, as ever, will be for Pakistan to combine their enviable talent with discipline.
New Zealand go into this game with the opportunity to win Group D. Doing so will make their progress to the Super Eight independent of the result of the Pakistan-Bangladesh fixture. Their evisceration of Bangladesh by 59 runs on Friday was almost faultless. The key battle in that game was tipped to be between New Zealand's batsmen and Bangladesh's spinners. They took 117 off 12 overs from the slow men. A strong performance against a more formidable Pakistan will make people sit up and take notice of a team that isn't considered to be a strong contender for the 2012 title.
Form guide(completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand: WWLLL
Watch out for
The majority of New Zealand batsmen: Brendon McCullum, with his 123 off 58 balls, demolished Bangladesh single-handedly. So aggressive was his approach and so clinical his execution that there was almost no pressure on his team-mates. All they needed to do was give McCullum strike. It's unlikely that anyone will play as explosive an innings against Pakistan, so the contributions need to be more collective to reduce the reliance on McCullum and Ross Taylor.
Saeed and Shahid: In Ajmal and Afridi, not only do Pakistan possess the highest and third highest wicket-takers in this format, but also the third and fourth lowest economy-rates among bowlers who've played at least 20 Twenty20 internationals. Ajmal goes at 6.03 per over on average and Afridi 6.10. They strike and they stifle.
New Zealand opener Martin Guptill sustained a minor strain to his left hamstring while fielding against Bangladesh and has not recovered sufficiently to play Pakistan. He is expected to be fit for their first Super Eights match if New Zealand qualify. Their only reserve batsman is BJ Watling.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Rob Nicol, 2 James Franklin, 3 Brendon McCullum (wk), 4 Ross Taylor (capt), 5 Kane Williamson, 6 BJ Watling, 7 Jacob Oram, 8 Daniel Vettori, 9 Nathan McCullum, 10 Tim Southee, 11 Kyle Mills.
The four players Pakistan are likely to leave out of their starting line-up are Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Sami, Raza Hasan and Yasir Arafat.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Imran Nazir, 3 Nasir Jamshed, 4 Kamran Akmal (wk), 5 Umar Akmal, 6 Shoaib Malik, 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Abdul Razzaq, 9 Sohail Tanvir, 10 Umar Gul, 11 Saeed Ajmal.
Pitch and conditions
The forecast is for some showers in Pallekele. It threatened to rain during the Bangladesh-New Zealand game as well but there were no interruptions. The spinners didn't get much turn either, with the ball coming on to the bat.
Stats and trivia
- Pakistan played New Zealand in Pallekele during the 2011 World Cup and fed Ross Taylor a diet of full tosses and deliveries that were too straight. He scored 131 off 124 balls.
- New Zealand and Pakistan have played eight Twenty20 internationals and the head-to-head record is 5-3 in Pakistan's favour. New Zealand's three wins, however, came in the last four matches.
- In Twenty20 matches over the last 12 months, Afridi and Ajmal have economy-rates of less than six an over. Mohammad Hafeez and Sohail Tanvir conceded 5.82 and 5.94 on average during this period.
"I've run out of words to praise him. His T20 performances have been match winning for Pakistan. Yes, recently, he has not performed very well but the way he is working hard and focusing on this tournament, I wish him the very best, and God willing he performs well for the team as always."
Pakistan captain Mohammad Hafeez on Shahid Afridi
"It didn't spin as much as we thought it might. When you play a second time on it, it could probably spin a little bit more. We'll have to wait and see."
Ross Taylor, the New Zealand captain, on the Pallekele pitch.
Our US readers can watch the match live here, coverage starts 30 minutes before the game begins.
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo