Pakistan hope for feel-good Auckland vibe
January 31, 2016
Start time 1100 local (1000 GMT)
This tour ending where it began - in Auckland - may lead to good vibes taking hold in the Pakistan camp. They have been outclassed so far, but their solitary win of the trip came at Eden Park. Their previous ODI at the venue also brought success, as they defended 222 against South Africa during the World Cup. New Zealand have been so consistent it is hard to imagine this - but could a long, rain-affected break between ODIs also snap the hosts' momentum? Pakistan can no longer win the series, but they may not have minded a few extra days to recover from that rough loss at the Basin Reserve.
For a touring team, Pakistan seem to be well-versed in the peculiarities of this unique rugby-cricket venue. In the T20 they played here, the batsmen did not seem over-eager to clear those short boundaries, as visitors in the past have been. Pakistan's bowlers also delivered the slightly shorter lengths that New Zealand have used to great success there.
The hosts are searching for a final fillip before they dive into the most anticipated tour of their home summer. Members of Australia's ODI team have already arrived in the country, and the attention of the fans and media is beginning to turn in that direction. Another victory at Eden Park will mean New Zealand have won every home series they have played since October 2014, in all formats, further embellishing the aura that has developed around the team.
They may, however, have to contend with the absence of Martin Guptill for this match. Guptill rolled his ankle during training on the eve of the game, and is said to be a 50-50 chance to play.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand: WWLWW
In the spotlight
Brendon McCullum should be back at the helm, and the top of the order, after recovering from the back injury aggravated by his kamikaze dive into advertising hoardings. In the home stretch of his career now, McCullum will be aiming to give New Zealand fans a few more manic innings by which to remember him.
In eight ODI innings, Babar Azam has crossed fifty four times. He was the best of Pakistan's batsmen in the first ODI, hitting the short balls confidently on a quick pitch, and building sagely alongside Mohammad Hafeez after the openers had gone cheaply. New Zealand will have studied him and formulated fresh plans in the days since, but Babar's record so far - including in domestic cricket - suggests he is a player with promise.
If Guptill is unfit, Tom Latham will have the chance to open the batting. Four seamers are competing for three spots, and Doug Bracewell seems likeliest to miss out.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Martin Guptill/Tom Latham, 2 Brendon McCullum (capt.), 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Henry Nicholls, 5 Grant Elliott, 6 Corey Anderson, 7 BJ Watling (wk), 8 Mitchell Santner, 9 Adam Milne, 10 Matt Henry, 11 Trent Boult
Pakistan had said Shoaib Malik had recovered from injury, but there appears to be fresh doubt about him ahead of this match. Sohaib Maqsood seems likeliest to make way for Malik's return.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Azhar Ali (capt.), 2 Ahmed Shehzad, 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Babar Azam, 5 Shoaib Malik, 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 7 Imad Wasim, 8 Anwar Ali, 9 Wahab Riaz, 10 Mohammad Amir, 11 Mohammad Irfan
Pitch and conditions
Auckland has had excellent weather for most of the week, but the forecast has worsened significantly, just as cricket arrives in the city. The met service suggests the morning will be dry, but that showers could begin in the early afternoon. There can be movement in the air at Eden Park, but the drop-in pitch is generally good for batting.
Stats and trivia
- McCullum has hit four half centuries and a 47 in his seven most recent innings at Eden Park. He averages 44.85 there in that time.
- At home, New Zealand have won 26 matches and lost only four, across formats, since November 2014.
- The first ODI was the first time in seven matches that Wahab Riaz bowled in a New Zealand ODI and failed to claim a wicket.
"History suggests that teams have looked at what's a par score and probably added a few more. I think with sides that travel here for the first time, it's quite nice to bowl, because they don't know what's a good score and can go a bit too hard."
New Zealand coach Mike Hesson on the propensity for touring teams to shoot too high at Eden Park.
"Against England as well last series, Babar Azam played really well. In the game in Wellington, in different conditions, he was again playing very fluently, and with a lot of confidence. That's a very good sign for us."
Pakistan captain Azhar Ali on Azam's good stretch of results.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando