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December 2, 2009
If only these two could spin it a bit more. Then, Pakistan-New Zealand contests would be among the most eagerly-awaited of the modern age. But with Australia loudly moaning over the quality of their opponents (few did it in 2006-07 when England were walloped), India trying to become the No. 1 side in the world, and South Africa doing a fair impersonation of England during their post-2005 Ashes slide, nobody seems much fussed about a genuinely competitive Test battle. Even news agencies can't be bothered.
Yet few rivalries - too intense a description maybe, but what else? - have been as fantastic to follow as this over the last two decades. Arguably the last time it really wasn't worth tuning in was way back in 1988-89, when Shoaib Mohammad was busy making his father look like Tillakaratne Dilshan. Since then there have been, remarkably, only two draws and one of those - the last time Pakistan visited - would have been but for rain. The first Test at Dunedin happily continued this fine trend.
A result is almost certain then, but Pakistan will be desperate for it to go their way. They have now gone 12 Tests without a win, which is their third-worst winless streak ever (they went 22 Tests and 16 Tests without a win through the 60s). Next month, it will be three years without a Test win, another time altogether, even if they have played so little since then.
To break that streak they will also need something to happen that hasn't happened for a long time: their top order to fire. Currently, their top three must be the weakest in world cricket, as brittle as papyrus in a windstorm. So they have decided to strengthen the middle order by calling up Misbah-ul-Haq. As you would. At least he might hold onto catches in the slip.
New Zealand had also not won a significant Test for a while, until Dunedin and little surprise that it was the only one Shane Bond has played in that run. He was magnificent throughout, but he will now be no more, for this series at least. Yet another injury means one major obstacle on Pakistan's path to a win is removed.
Daniel Vettori's men have other concerns besides that. The batsmen in their first innings had much to thank Imran Farhat for and their collapse in the second innings was ugly and, worryingly, predictable given their history with Pakistan.
Form guide(last five completed matches, most recent first)
Watch out for...
Shane Bond's injury has opened the door for Daryl Tuffey in the playing XI, and Tim Southee in the squad. Pakistan are probably Tuffey's favourite opponents (24 of his 66 Test wickets have come against them, in six Tests), while Southee's most recent first-class outing returned figures of 8 for 27
Pakistan's batting order: How many holes will they try to plug? Opening, one-down, middle order? Better maybe to keep an eye on their wonderfully incisive pace attack.
New Zealand are likely to only make the one enforced change to replace Bond with either Southee or Tuffey. Southee is the future and a man in fine form.
New Zealand: Tim McIntosh, Martin Guptill, Daniel Flynn, Ross Taylor, Peter Fulton, Grant Elliott, Brendon McCullum (wk), Daniel Vettori (capt), Tim Southee/Daryl Tuffey, Ian O'Brien, Chris Martin.
Pakistan's XI is open to all kinds of conjecture and permutation. Both openers may be dropped and replaced by Salman Butt, possibly pushing Shoaib Malik or Fawad Alam up. If Malik were to be dropped altogether - given his history with Mohammad Yousuf, it wouldn't be a surprise. Misbah-ul-Haq is likely to slip straight back into the XI. Even Danish Kaneria is in the running to bring the promise of yet more wickets at the expense of the tightness of Saeed Ajmal.
Pakistan: Salman Butt, Fawad Alam, Mohammad Yousuf, Misbah-ul-Haq, Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Aamer, Umar Gul, Danish Kaneria/Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Asif.
Pitch and conditions
Rain is expected to disrupt the Test on the first three days and it will be windy throughout, hardly the kind of 'home' weather Pakistan would have wanted. The teams have been practicing indoors.
Stats and trivia
"I'm pretty sad for him, we've grown accustomed to having Shane around and obviously his performance [in Dunedin] was outstanding. He basically won the first Test on his own, he played a huge role in it and however this series goes, we're indebted to Shane."
Daniel Vettori, New Zealand's captain, will miss Shane Bond.
"New Zealand will miss him dearly. It's bad luck, this is a very, very crucial Test match. I wouldn't say it's a relief, we have come to play cricket, it doesn't matter who you are playing against."
Intikhab Alam, Pakistan's coach, will not so much.