Teams gear up for final World Cup prep
Saturday, January 31, 2015
Start time 1400 local, 0100 GMT
In what might be the shortest turnaround between completely separate series, New Zealand farewell the Sri Lanka side they have dominated, and rejoin battle against Pakistan, who had tested them, across formats, in the UAE. Barely 40 hours will have passed between the final ball of the previous tour, and the first ball of the next.
The hosts sustained a minor blow when they lost the dead rubber to Sri Lanka, but otherwise have most weapons in their armoury nicely honed. Martin Guptill's two golden ducks in three innings will be cause for mild concern, as will the inertia that continues to plague Ross Taylor's innings. Both those batsmen have recently crossed, though, and the batting runs strong and deep anyway. The Pakistan matches will simply be two more chances to get right.
The bowling had fallen away slightly in Wellington, but with the series already won, New Zealand were fiddling around with their strategy. Only so much can be read into that performance.
Like Sri Lanka, Pakistan are missing a key bowler as Junaid Khan continues to recover from a nerve-related thigh injury, but as ever, their bowling talents are so wicked and varied, it is more a conspiracy than an attack. There is Mohammed Irfan and his thunderbolts from the sky, Shahid Afridi's busy legbreaks set off by unearthly Pathan strength (he bowled a 132kph quicker ball, last time he played in Wellington), Wahab Riaz's wild reverse swing, and legspinner Yasir Shah, with an action like melted velvet.
It is the batting in foreign conditions that will largely be the visitors' worry though. Pakistan had been 79 for 5 in the 18th over in their second warm-up match in Lincoln, before Misbah-ul-Haq launched a familiar revival, alongside Umar Akmal. They can't afford such a poor start against a humming opposition pace attack.
(last five matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Brendon McCullum had a roaring start to the home season, with a big hundred in the Christchurch Test and 168 runs in the first two ODIs, but he has been quieter in the three innings since. He wins matches off his own blade when he fires, but in ODIs, he has not yet succeeded consistently against the better attacks. Good outings against Pakistan would ensure his cricket does not lose momentum, with the World Cup in touching distance.
Sarfraz Ahmed's Karachi charisma has been a significant boon to Pakistan's Test side, but he is yet to transplant that success to ODIs, where he has only one half century in 18 completed innings. Pakistan tried him as an opener in the warm-up match, which suggests they feel his talents are under-utilised down the order. He is a far superior gloveman to Umar Akmal too, but needs to prove that his batting is good enough first, to claim a place in the XI.
It's unclear if Adam Milne has recovered sufficiently from his side strain, but the remainder of New Zealand's World Cup squad should be available for the match. Nathan McCullum may have a chance of replacing Daniel Vettori, as New Zealand seek to keep all their players match-ready.
New Zealand: (probable) 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Brendon McCullum (capt.), 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Grant Elliott, 6 Luke Ronchi (wk) , 7 Corey Anderson, 8 Nathan McCullum/ Daniel Vettori, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Mitchell McClenaghan, 11 Trent Boult
Pakistan's XI is less settled. There are all sorts of possibilities in the top order and the attack, and only the middle, where Misbah and Umar Akmal nail down two spots, seems immovable.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Ahmed Shehzad, 3 Younis Khan, 4 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt.), 5 Umar Akmal, 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Bilawal Bhatti, 9 Wahab Riaz, 10 Mohammad Irfan, 11 Sohail Khan/ Ehsan Adil
Pitch and conditions
The same strip that was used for the Sri Lanka match will be in action again. The surface was hard, and had decent carry, but was also tacky at times, which may suit Pakistan. There was also plenty of swing to be had in the air, particularly during the early evening. Light showers are expected before play, and intermittently in the evening as well, so Duckworth-Lewis may come into play.
Stats and trivia
- New Zealand have won 22 ODIs and lost 15 against Pakistan, at home. Pakistan did win their most recent series 3-2 however, in 2011.
- Kane Williamson averages 66.56 in ODI cricket since the start of 2014
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando