The curious case of Younis and Misbah
Match FactsFebruary 1, Napier
Start time 14:00 (01:00 GMT)
Christchurch witnessed a quintessentially Pakistani style of play: start slow, build a base, retain wickets, and explode in the end. It used to be the norm in 1980s before Saeed Anwar and Aamir Sohail changed that in the 90's, but once again, without a settled opening pair, Pakistan are returning to the roots. Not many teams can launch into a frenzied and mesmerising attack in the end overs like Pakistan can. Abdul Razzaq swinging like there is no tomorrow, Shahid Afridi swinging like there is no next moment, and the scarred opposition living on the boundary's edge, waiting for the violence to end. As Luke Woodcock put it: "I've seen a bit of it on TV but to actually see it first hand, playing against him [Afridi] for the first time, it was a pretty special knock and he took the momentum away from us."
Mohammad Hafeez hit his maiden hundred in his 61st game, Ahmed Shehzad dazzled briefly in the second ODI, and Umar Akmal showed glimpses of the imperious flair he possesses. But what about Pakistan's experienced middle order? For long, Younis Khan's critics have said that he bats in ODIs like he is batting in a Test and vice versa. For long, Misbah-ul-Haq's critics have said that he bats in all formats like he is batting in a Test. Their supporters will cite Christchurch as evidence of their effectiveness. Let Younis and Misbah play the middle overs, preventing a collapse, and set the base for the marauders to take over. The critics want the same thing but they wonder why the holding job can't be performed with more purpose? Can't Younis and Misbah take singles, keep the strike rotating, and score at a decent pace? Their career strike rates are just over 75, which is actually ideal for the job they do, but the criticism, especially against Misbah, is that he only makes up towards the end of his knock. The sedate approach at the start increases pressure on the others and triggers self-destructive ways or so the argument goes. It will be interesting to watch their approach in the next game.
Their opposition, New Zealand, are experimenting, searching for the ideal line-up before the World Cup. The biggest puzzle is the position of Brendon McCullum. On the flat-beds of the subcontinent, considering that he is a regular Test opener, would it be better to play him at the top or keep him for later? Martin Guptill has been in great form, and Jesse Ryder is best while opening, so why not plug McCullum lower down to make use of the batting Powerplay? And what about Jamie How, who looks good in most innings but never carries on? He will get one more chance in the next game, this time in the middle order, and he needs to grab it.
Tim Southee and Hamish Bennett are the two chosen ones for the fourth ODI. It was slightly strange to see New Zealand make Bennett bowl against the breeze in the last game. Will they give him a chance to go down wind and try and use his pace to unsettle the batsmen? Luke Woodcock, who had a good debut, lost out as Vettori and Nathan McCullum return. The pressure is on Nathan to put in a good performance to keep Woodcock behind in the pecking order.
Napier, the venue of the fourth ODI, has been a burial ground for the bowlers and if the pitch remains flat and full of runs, Pakistan hold the edge over New Zealand.
New Zealand: LWLLL
Players to watch out for …
Jesse Ryder has a great strike-rate (95.41) in ODIs but he has a better grasp of how to build an innings in Tests. If he can reprise that temperament in ODIs, his transformation into a world-class ODI player would be complete. The back-lift is minimal, the foot work precise, and the shot-selection is maturing rapidly. Ryder can be the backbone of this line-up in the World Cup.
Umar Akmal has the shots, but does he have the temperament? There is a thin line between arrogance and confidence and he seems to be forever living on that edge. Pakistan would hope that Umar can fast track the transformation from boy to man and be more consistent.
Waqar Younis, Pakistan's coach, said there would only be one change: will the spinner Abdur Rehman get a chance, or will they try to bring in Asad Shafiq or Shoaib Akthar?
Pakistan (probable): 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Mohammad Hafeez, 3 Younis Khan, 4 Misbah-ul-Haq, 5 Umar Akmal, 6 Kamran Akmal (wk), 7 Shahid Afridi (capt), 8 Abdul Razzaq, 9 Abdur Rehman/Sohail Tanvir, 10 Umar Gul, 11 Shoaib Akhtar/Wahab Riaz.
How and Kane Williamson will both play in the middle order. Bennett and Southee will be the seamers while Vettori and Nathan McCullum are the spinners in the XI.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Jesse Ryder, 2 Martin Guptill, 3 Ross Taylor , 4 Scott Styris, 5 Kane Williamson, 6 Jamie How, 7 Brendon McCullum (wk), 8 Daniel Vettori (capt), 9 Nathan McCullum, 10 Tim Southee, 11 Hamish Bennett.
Stats and trivia
- Seven of the last 10 ODIs in Napier have been won by the side batting first.
- Afridi's five sixes in the third ODI took his tally to 285, the record for most sixes in one-dayers. Sanath Jayasuriya is second with 270. It was also the 16th time that Afridi hit five or more sixes in an innings. Jayasuriya did it 11 times.
- Younis Khan averages only 29.30 from 18 games against New Zealand. In New Zealand, he averages 18 from three games.
Quotes"Both teams search for consistency, and both teams struggle to get it, so we know we can turn their confidence around pretty quickly and hopefully put it in our favour. I think we need to look at that"
Vettori is hopeful New Zealand can pressure Pakistan into a collapse.
"If you look at the way we bowled to him [Afridi], we gave him a number of opportunities to clear the ropes. We missed a chance to catch him, you just can't afford to do that, so the onus goes on the bowlers to hit their lines and lengths ... You can accept if they get hit from those areas, but if you are bowling half-volleys and length balls in the Powerplays you are going to be in trouble."
Vettori on how to negate the Afridi threat.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo