New Zealand seek stability amid the shambles
Match FactsFebruary 5, Auckland
Start time 12:00 (23:00 GMT)
Write off Pakistan's World Cup chances at your own peril. Despite having setbacks hurled at them from every corner, they have managed to recreate the flair that epitomised their cricket in the 1990s and early 2000s. The manner in which they have won the series also highlights the depth and balance their squad possesses.
The Christchurch win was old-school Pakistan: keep wickets in hand and explode in the slog overs. In Napier, Misbah-ul-Haq executed a perfectly calibrated run-chase, while in Hamilton, relentlessly attacking bowling in the middle overs and enterprising fielding won the game. The fast-bowling department is potent and full of variety and the openers are in good touch, with a century apiece in the last two games. Everything is falling into place, including Shoaib Akhtar's perfect lengths while hitting speeds of 150 kph. There is a visible unity in the ranks that makes a mockery of the rumoured cliques within the set-up. And now they even know who will lead them in the World Cup.
With the series in the bag, Pakistan may want to test their reserve strength in Auckland. New Zealand, on the other hand, don't seem to have clarity on their first-choice XI. Tim Southee - the one bowler who has tormented Pakistan throughout the tour - was benched for the must-win game in Hamilton. The batsmen have hurtled along listlessly, expressing themselves more freely on Twitter than at the crease. Jesse Ryder has struggled with injury and off-field distractions, Jamie How has stuttered against pace and accuracy. Brendon McCullum's push down the order has not yet worked, and Ross Taylor is taking time time to find his range. Can New Zealand stumble upon stability amidst this shambles?
(Last five completed games)
New Zealand: LLLWL
Players to watch out for …
His pace may have gone down, but Jacob Oram has returned well as a bowler, following his troubles with a knee injury. His batting, however, is yet to make an impact in this series. His last half-century came in February last year, against Bangladesh. The last time he passed fifty against top opposition, though, was in June 2008 against England. Can he find his form ahead of the World Cup?
Abdul Razzaq has made the new ball his own, allowing Pakistan to retain their express fast bowlers for the latter stages of the innings. He has whistled in at around 130 kph, kept them short of a length to deny scoring opportunities, and got the odd legcutter to nip away and create havoc. His batting, however, is yet to create the damage he is known for. If he finds his groove on Saturday, New Zealand's bowlers could be in for some pain.
Mohammad Hafeez's bowling exploits have rendered Saeed Ajmal redundant. Given Ajmal's variations, he may have a bigger role to play in the World Cup, and could get a game here. Will Sohail Tanvir get another chance to rediscover his late swing?
Pakistan (probable): 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Mohammad Hafeez, 3 Kamran Akmal (wk), 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq, 6 Umar Akmal, 7 Shahid Afridi (capt), 8 Abdul Razzaq, 9 Wahab Riaz / Sohail Tanvir, 10 Umar Gul , 11 Shoaib Akhtar / Saeed Ajmal
New Zealand will hope for Daniel Vettori's recovery in time for the match. Unless Southee is being kept fresh for the World Cup, he should figure in the starting XI.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Jesse Ryder, 2 Martin Guptill, 3 Jamie How, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Scott Styris, 6 James Franklin, 7 Brendon McCullum (wk), 8 Daniel Vettori (capt) / Nathan McCullum, 9 Jacob Oram, 10 Tim Southee / Hamish Bennett, 11 Kyle Mills.
Stats and trivia
- This is Pakistan's first bilateral ODI series win since November 2008. That series, against the West Indies, was also the last time Younis Khan scored a century
- Misbah-ul-Haq leads the run-charts for this series with 203 runs
"It doesn't make a difference whether Misbah leads the side or I lead the side because we both are playing for our country"
Shahid Afridi reiterates the unity in the Pakistani ranks
"I am not a fan of rotation. You try to pick your strongest side. It gives you the best chance of winning and getting some momentum going."
John Wright's statement suggests Tim Southee is not a part of New Zealand's first-choice XI
Nitin Sundar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo