Amir in focus as Pakistan run into red-hot New Zealand
January 15, 2016
Start time 1900 local (0600 GMT)
New Zealand have batsmen in a record-breaking mood. Pakistan are hoping reignite their T20 game after losses against England. There is a World T20 in two months. But none of this is as compelling as the return of one of cricket's exiles. Friday will mark a major step in Mohammad Amir's quest for redemption.
Every no-ball he delivers over the next few years will probably bring to mind that infamous second day at Lord's, in 2010. But he seems a little more mature now. In this recent interview, Amir spoke of having a fast bowler's anger "in the blood", yet of having accepted the fact that even his team-mates have a right to express displeasure at his inclusion. He spoke of "learning about life" during tough times, and of wanting to convince his critics, and win over fans.
Most of all, he spoke of having changed, only, let us hope that does not extend to his bowling. He had been one of the world's most absorbing talents during his brief pre-fixing career. Pakistan fans will remember sublime Test spells in England, in Leeds against Australia, and at The Oval against England. Or his superb use of the short ball in the first over of the 2009 World T20 final, where tournament top-scorer Tillakaratne Dilshan was first subdued, then overcome. In a brush with top-level T20 cricket at the Bangladesh Premier League in November, the skill in Amir's wrist, and the rhythm in his legs seemed not to have deserted him. Unlike the many volcanoes in Auckland's city limits, Amir's dormant days are finally over.
There are trials to come, beyond the fast bowler's usual plight of having to stay fit and take wickets. A major tour of England in the middle of the year promises to be a media circus, and on that front at least, New Zealand has been a relatively relaxed place in which to begin his reintegration. Maybe when he starts to bowl again, if he bowls just like he used to, cricket may find it easier to forgive him.
(last five matches, most recent first)
New Zealand: WWWLW
In the spotlight
Corey Anderson is still playing as a specialist batsman as he continues to recover from back injury, but he has been handed a new role with the bat. Moved up to no. 4 in the order, he is now charged with batting freely, and maintaining the top order's momentum, as Ross Taylor - when he plays - is expected to provide insurance at no. 5 . Anderson is an increasingly versatile player, but his progress in an unfamiliar role in this series may determine whether New Zealand stick with this top order combination for the World T20.
With Umar Gul having had injury problems, and played only one T20 in the past year, Wahab Riaz appears the de-facto leader of the Pakistan attack. He had had a southern summer of resurgence last time he was in these climes, taking 16 wickets at 23 at the World Cup. One of his better spells had come at Eden Park, during Pakistan's fervent defence of 232 against South Africa. It may be up to Wahab to set the example in bowling those slightly shorter lengths that are generally more successful at the venue.
Legspinner Todd Astle would prefer to make his T20 debut in a larger ground, but he may play in the team over Mitchell Santner, whom New Zealand have already had a look at. Matt Henry, Adam Milne, Mitchell McClenaghan and Trent Boult are also playing for three spots between them. Tom Latham may play for the rested Ross Taylor.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Kane Williamson (capt), 2 Martin Guptill, 3 Colin Munro 4 Corey Anderson, 5 Tom Latham, 6 Grant Elliott, 7 Luke Ronchi (wk), 8 Todd Astle, 9 Matt Henry, 10 Mitchell McClenaghan, 11 Trent Boult
Anwar Ali and Gul are likely competing for one place. If Pakistan prefer experience, there's little doubt as to who they would choose. Sohaib Maqsood was hit in the neck at training, but is expected to be fit to play.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Mohammad Hafeez, 3 Sohaib Maqsood, 4 Shoaib Malik, 5 Umar Akmal, 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 7 Shahid Afridi (capt), 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Anwar Ali/Umar Gul, 10 Wahab Riaz, 11 Mohammad Amir
Pitch and conditions
The drop-in pitch at Eden Park is usually full of runs, but can turn, at times. The weather is expected to be dry, if a little cloudy, with temperatures around 20 degrees Celsius.
Stats and trivia
- Amir took 14 wickets at an average of 12.64 and an economy rate of 5.56 in the Bangladesh Premier League in November-December last year. He has 23 wickets in 18 T20 internationals.
- The first T20 at Mount Maunganui is the only occasion in which Corey Anderson has batted in the top four in 11 T20 innings.
- New Zealand have played 11 T20s at Eden Park, and won six of those games.
"I would say you'd like 100-metre boundaries, but I guess that presents its own challenges. If you restrict you can create chances to take wickets. In this format you know anything is possible."
New Zealand legspinner Todd Astle on the prospect of debuting at Eden Park
"Before coming here we had a fitness camp as well, for a couple of weeks. Everybody worked really hard. If you have a hard fitness training camp, what it does is bring us all together. That's important for any side. It helps to understand each other more. All the juniors and the seniors - it's no different at the moment. We're all pumped up and trying to give 100 per cent."
Pakistan batsman Ahmed Shehzad on Pakistan's preparation for this tour
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando