Contrasting teams prepare for similar challenges
Match factsNovember 24-28, 2009
Start time 12 pm (23.00 GMT)
Two contrasting cricketing styles will be on view in Dunedin from Tuesday. New Zealand are efficient: they strive, and frequently succeed, in making optimal use of often limited resources. They win admirers because they are usually the underdogs and they punch above their weight. Pakistan, on the other hand, have no shortage of talent and flair and, if they made consistency a habit, would be world beaters. It's their unpredictability, though, that makes them compelling to watch. They can oscillate from abysmal to astonishing, and back again, sometimes regardless of the quality of opposition.
And yet, these very different teams go into the three-Test series facing similar challenges, and how they cope - and their methods will be different - could decide the winner.
Pakistan have a new captain, Mohammad Yousuf, after Younis Khan quit following the one-day series defeat against New Zealand in Abu Dhabi because of lack of support from his team-mates and took a break from international cricket. It is believed that Shoaib Malik was the leader of the group that was unhappy with Younis. Whether the team will gel under Yousuf remains to be seen, for Yousuf was liberal in his criticism of Malik's captaincy after he joined the ICL.
New Zealand, too, have had their share of leadership problems in the recent past with the players' unhappiness over the contribution of coach Andy Moles leading to him resigning at short notice. Daniel Vettori, the team's jack of tough trades, assumed a greater leadership role in Abu Dhabi, to go with his duties of selector, captain, premier bowler and crisis batsman. Just how much responsibility will be too much? In addition, Vettori recently recovered from concussion, he's keeping a shoulder problem at bay, and he had an elbow injury scare while training on Sunday.
Leadership upheavals aside, both teams are returning to Test cricket following series losses in Sri Lanka. Two consecutive and terrible batting collapses caused Pakistan's defeat while New Zealand's batsmen were simply unable to post large enough scores. They got past 200 in each of their four innings but made more than 300 only once.
Form guide (last five Tests, most recent first)
New Zealand - LLDDL
Pakistan - DLLDD
Watch out for
UDRS: The new and improved umpire decision review system will be used for the first time in the first New Zealand-Pakistan Tests. Teams will have two unsuccessful reviews per innings and the third umpire will have access to more advanced technology, like the Hot Spot. Vettori had mixed feelings about the system. "I played a long time with no referral system and had no issues. I've seen it work well and I've seen it work badly," he said. "Hopefully we can get it to where it becomes an instrument to get rid of bad decisions and nothing more."
Shane Bond: New Zealand have missed him, sorely. The Dunedin Test will mark Bond's return after his two year ICL-induced exile and, though his pace has reduced, he remains a threat. He bowled intelligently on the drier pitches in the UAE during the limited-overs assignment against Pakistan and will look forward to the surfaces at home, where swing and seam movement will be more pronounced.
Umar Akmal: The younger Akmal brother made a promising start in limited-overs cricket, averaging over 44 in ten ODIs, and showed the temperament necessary to succeed in tough situations. A Test debut in New Zealand, though, could be the toughest challenge yet in a fledgling career. Akmal bats with aggression and flamboyance and so Dunedin could be in for a treat should he get going. If he makes the final XI that is.
New Zealand will be playing a Test for the first time since Jacob Oram retired from the format and are likely to field a XI comprising six specialist batsmen, a wicketkeeper and four bowlers. Grant Elliott's knee injury will prevent him from bowling his part-time medium pace and Vettori, who will probably be the only spinner, is likely to bear the majority of the increased workload. The fast-bowling attack is likely to comprise Bond, Daryl Tuffey and Chris Martin, ahead of Iain O'Brien. New Zealand's batting is also depleted with Jesse Ryder out injured but his absence has given Peter Fulton the opportunity to make a comeback in the middle order.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Tim McIntosh, 2 Martin Guptill, 3 Daniel Flynn, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Peter Fulton, 6 Grant Elliott, 7 Brendon McCullum (wk), 8 Daniel Vettori (capt), 9 Shane Bond, 10 Daryl Tuffey, 11 Chris Martin.
Pakistan are likely to field a batting line-up similar to the one used in the warm-up match in Queenstown. The one change could be Salman Butt being replaced by Shoaib Malik in the middle order. The three-man pace attack is likely to be formed by Umar Gul, Mohammad Aamer and Mohammed Asif, who will be playing his first Test since the ban on him for a positive drugs test ended. It's a toss up between Danish Kaneria and Saeed Ajmal for the solitary slow bowler's spot but the offspinner is likely to get the nod.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Khurram Manzoor, 2 Imran Farhat, 3 Fawad Alam, 4 Mohammad Yousuf (capt), 5 Shoaib Malik, 6 Umar Akmal, 7 Kamran Akmal (wk), 8 Umar Gul, 9 Mohammad Asif, 10 Mohammad Aamer, 11 Saeed Ajmal/Danish Kaneria.
Pitch and conditions
New Zealand has never hosted a Test in November and the maximum temperature in Dunedin over the next five days, according to weather.com, is predicted to be 16 degrees (though Monday had a high of 30). There is rain forecast on days two and three and scattered showers on the fifth. The fifth day of the last Test at the University Oval, against West Indies in 2008, was washed out after which questions were raised about the ground's drainage. The primary challenge for Pakistan, though, will be to adjust quickly to the low temperatures. The Dawn newspaper even reported that the players were unable to stay warm with the kits they had been provided with.
Stats and Trivia
- In their last five series Pakistan have lost four and drawn one. They've won one out of 13 Tests during this period.
- New Zealand have won two out of their last 22 Tests against the top teams (excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe). They've lost seven of their last nine series against these teams.
- New Zealand have won only one series against Pakistan at home, which was way back in 1985. Since then Pakistan have won four out of six series (including one-off Tests).
- Mohammad Yousuf averages 69.71 in New Zealand, and has four fifty-plus scores in five Tests.
- Vettori has taken four wickets in three Tests against Pakistan, each at the cost of 100.25 runs
"We are an inexperienced side and we need to bat four or five sessions. We have the kind of bowling attack that we can get 20 wickets and this is what you need. But as far as batting is concerned I think we will have to be very, very careful."
Intikhab Alam on his team's strength and weakness ahead of the first Test.
"In the past we've probably had a bit of a luxury with the allrounder but this time round everyone has to step up and do their job. That's going to be the key throughout the summer, that we get players performing at the right times."
Vettori wants his charges to make up for Oram's absence.
George Binoy is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo