Teams in upheaval evenly matched
December 26, Auckland
Start time 14:00 (01:00 GMT)
The Big Picture
Pakistan run into another team that is dealing with problems. Compared to the murkiness surrounding Pakistan's cricket - spot-fixing investigations, an inefficient and politically incorrect board, a disappearing wicketkeeper - New Zealand's winless woefulness may seem like a trifle.
Yet, their recent travails in the subcontinent - where they failed to win any of their last 11 one-dayers and three Tests, spread across each of the three World Cup hosting countries - have left their tournament preparations in disarray, with very little time for new coach John Wright to turn things around.
This series - on spongy, seaming tracks and small grounds - against a Pakistan team in its current state, presents New Zealand with less than ideal preparation for the big event, but it gives them a good shot at ending the slump.
Pakistan don't have the luxury of picking and choosing their venues anymore. Security concerns have prevented them from playing at home. This is Pakistan's second visit to New Zealand in a year, a frequency rarely seen from Asian teams.
They begin this tour at the Eden Park in Auckland, the venue that hosted the first ever Twenty20 international, almost six years ago. A lot has changed since that hit-and-giggle encounter, in which Australia and New Zealand sported retro costumes and outmoded facial hair. Three World Twenty20s have come and gone since, with Pakistan making the semi-finals on each occasion and winning the tournament once. This is the format they have always threatened to make their own; so despite their current four-match losing streak and all the other distractions, they come into the series with a dangerous reputation.
Form guide(most recent first)
New Zealand: LWLWL
Watch out for...
It's tough to leave Shahid Afridi out of this section, especially at the start of a series. There is a good chance he will succumb to a rush of blood and leave his backers infuriated, but with Afridi, that truly explosive innings is always around the corner. He failed as an opener in Pakistan's warm-up defeat, but his best innings in the format - the memorable half-centuries in the semi-final and final of the 2009 World Twenty20 - came at No. 3. Where is he going to take guard on Sunday?
Daniel Vettori's absence means Nathan McCullum will be New Zealand's main spinner. His Twenty20 stats are impressive: a bowling average of 17.61 at an economy-rate of 6.45, to go with a batting average of 26.66. Pakistan have their share of aggressors in the middle order, and some of them - Umar Akmal in particular - are likely to target his offspin.
Brendon McCullum's absence gives Peter McGlashan another chance behind the stumps. McCullum will, however, be tougher to replace at the crease. Jesse Ryder should return to the opening spot after recovering from the injury he picked up in India, and he could have new-face Dean Brownlie for company. Adam Milne, the 18-year-old Central Districts seamer, could also get a game.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Jesse Ryder, 2 Dean Brownlie, 3 Martin Guptill, 4 Ross Taylor (capt), 5 James Franklin, 6 Scott Styris, 7 Nathan McCullum, 8 Peter McGlashan (wk), 9 Kyle Mills, 10 Ian Butler / Adam Milne, 11 Tim Southee
Umar Akmal kept wickets for Pakistan in the warm-up match, and could continue to keep his brother Adnan, the specialist keeper, on the bench. Ahmed Shehzad made a duck in that match, and could make way for Asad Shafiq.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Asad Shafiq / Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Mohammad Hafeez, 3 Shahid Afridi (capt), 4 Younis Khan, 5 Umar Akmal (wk), 6 Fawad Alam, 7 Abdul Razzaq, 8 Umar Gul, 9 Wahab Riaz, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Shoaib Akhtar
Pitch and conditions
The match will be played at a reoriented Eden Park stadium, with a newly installed pitch running from north to south, with some of the lower tier seats retracted in order to fit the new boundary. Traditionally, the average 20-over score on this ground works out to 154 for 9, but things could be different on the new track.
Stats and trivia
- Pakistan won the first four T20s between these sides, before losing by one run in a close encounter in the 2010 World Twenty20
- Shahid Afridi, Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal are the top three wicket-takers in the format. Fourth in the list is a man New Zealand would have loved to have for this series - Daniel Vettori
- The hosts will miss another player dearly - Brendon McCullum is the only player with over 1000 Twenty20 runs (1100 in all), and is the leading six-hitter in the format. Pakistan are without their top three run-getters - Kamran Akmal, Misbah-ul-Haq and Shoaib Malik
- Two of the five Twenty20 games played at Eden Park have resulted in ties.
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Nitin Sundar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo