Injury-hit NZ face volatile opponents
Match factsSaturday, October 3, 2009
Start time 1430 (1230 GMT)
Sri Lanka will now be a distant memory for these two teams. Leading into this tournament, both Pakistan and New Zealand took turns in getting battered and bruised in the heat and humidity of Sri Lanka. They came to South Africa with doubts looming over their ability to stick it out with other teams in formats longer than Twenty20. Both duly won their Twenty20s in Sri Lanka, and lost both Tests and ODIs comprehensively.
The weather in South Africa has been different, and so have been the results. New Zealand extracted swift revenge, knocking Sri Lanka out. But with every passing match they seem to be losing one player to injury. During their must-win game against England, Grant Elliot joined Jacob Oram, Jesse Ryder and Daryl Tuffey on the injured list, and Scott Styris has been flown in as a stand-by. Their travel agent won't mind flying another man in, if that means making it to the next stage.
Their opponents have no such problems. Unlike their famous triumphs, the 1992 World Cup and the World Twenty20 earlier this year, Pakistan have looked solid from the off in South Africa. They have looked more like the Pakistan of the 1999 World Cup. Their bowling attack has appeared the most settled, the most varied, and the most skilful of the lot in this tournament. Their batting is the weak link - it has fluctuated from very good, against India, to circumspect, against Australia and West Indies. If Pakistan lose the toss and are put in at the Wanderers, that passage of play will be New Zealand's best chance of making this a close contest.
On paper Pakistan are favourites, and over the years they have used New Zealand as a stepping-stone in big tournaments. In 1992, New Zealand's first defeat in the World Cup opened doors for Pakistan's progress to the semi-final, where they were beaten by the same opposition. The semi-finals of the 1999 World Cup and 2007 World Twenty20 were a repeat. In the World Twenty20 in 2009, it was against New Zealand that Pakistan discovered momentum, and never lost it. New Zealand supporters, though, would want to look back at the semi-final of the Champions Trophy in 2000, when they beat Pakistan, and went on to win the final too.
Form guide(last five completed matches, most recent first)
Pakistan - LWWWW
New Zealand - WWLLL
Imran Nazir is fit and should take Misbah-ul-Haq's place. The difficult problem is one that other teams would kill for: does Mohammad Asif go out for Mohammad Aamer? Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and Umar Gul will be difficult to keep out too. If the Wanderers pitch looks especially green, they could go in with four fast bowlers too. What a throwback it would be but that's unlikely to happen if the pitch is dry.
Pakistan: (probable): 1 Imran Nazir, 2 Kamran Akmal, 3 Younis Khan (capt), 4 Shoaib Malik, 5 Mohammad Yousuf, 6 Umar Akmal, 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, 9 Mohammad Aamer, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Umar Gul.
New Zealand don't have such problems of plenty. The batting looks amazingly thin in Ryder's absence. Aaron Redmond, who was too jetlagged to play the previous game, should come in. "Grant took part in training this morning and the injection to see how it's going - the injection works when he bats but not when he bowls," Daniel Vettori said. "We'll leave it till the last possible minute before making a decision."
New Zealand (probable): 1 Brendon McCullum (wk), 2 Aaron Redmond, 3 Martin Guptill, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Neil Broom, 6 Grant Elliot/Scott Styris, 7 James Franklin, 8 Daniel Vettori (capt), 9 Kyle Mills, 10 Shane Bond, 11 Ian Butler.
Watch out for...
Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor are two of the most experienced batsmen in the New Zealand line-up. How well they strike a balance between attacking and anchoring will be key to their team's chances.
Younis Khan has stalled his team's momentum twice in the two matches he has batted. He is the kind of captain who wants to earn respect as a player first, and will be under pressure to set that record straight on a pitch that is likely to test the techniques of Pakistan's batsmen.
Pitch and conditions
Vettori expects a pitch similar to the one New Zealand scored 300-plus on against Sri Lanka. "Looks like the Sri Lanka wicket, lots of runs in it. If so we're going to have to step up with the bat." There's only a 40% chance of rain but if the match is washed out, New Zealand will go through by the virtue of having topped Group B.
Stats and trivia
- Both teams have made it to at least the semi-finals of three of the last four world events. New Zealand lost in the semi-finals of the 2007 World Cup and the World Twenty20 in the same year. Pakistan lost the final of the 2007 World Twenty20, and won the next edition of the same tournament.
- Pakistan have met New Zealand nine times in ODIs in world events, and have won six.
- All four day-night matches at the Wanderers in this tournament have been won by the chasing team.
- Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi have bowled 51.2 overs between them in this tournament, for 203 runs and 10 wickets.
"In the semi-final, it doesn't matter who you play against, or where you play, because it is a big game. Pressure is not only on us, but also on New Zealand. If we get through two more games we are the champions."
Younis Khan knows the importance of the occasion.
"Momentum is with us I think. It's a much preferable way to go into the semi-final, knowing we've won two big games, qualified top - where in the past we have scraped through - and go into the Pakistan game with confidence."
Daniel Vettori draws confidence from the same ground and conditions where his team has won two in a row.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo