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December 10, 2009
Start time 12pm (2300 GMT)
If this series could be a template for all cricket contests over the next decade, we might be in for fun times; so cruel has been the bat's rule over the sport over the last decade. Bowler-dominated series have become increasingly rare, and though they are generally to be found in New Zealand, even that trend has been slowly giving in to the inevitability of the willow.
In any case, this series has been as much about the batting frailties of both sides as it has been about the sharpness of the bowling; it is inconceivable that stronger batting orders would not have scored more on surfaces which rewarded good batsmen and good bowlers equally. New Zealand's top order has come to resemble the best boy-bands; built around the talents of one man, Ross Taylor, the purpose of the others seems unclear, other than just hanging around making him look even better. Tim McIntosh, Peter Fulton, Martin Guptill, Daniel Flynn and Grant Elliott together have scored ten runs less than Taylor. Daniel Vettori has been his usual busy self lower down, but by then, mostly stuff has hit the fan.
Pakistan's hasn't been much better and they might, after the tour, name Muhammad Akmal Siddique and his wife as Players of the Series, for providing them their sons Kamran and Umar. Very nearly half of all the runs Pakistan has scored have come from the brothers. The pair nearly returned to Pakistan after the Wellington Test because their mother suffered a heart attack, but she insisted they stay on and Pakistan should be doubly grateful. The openers remain a concern, though the bigger concern might be with the thinking behind their continued selection. Surely some new, younger, fresher blood is worth trying, if only for the sake of change?
Traditionally in New Zealand, heading to Napier has meant conditions easing up for batsmen. McLean Park is the most batting-friendly venue and the last Test - against India earlier this year - produced five hundreds in all, including a double. It would be a shame for this series to end with a stalemate run-fest, even if you suspect strongly that neither side - unused to winning of late - will mind that too much.
Pakistan LLDLW New Zealand DLLWL
Watch out for
Mohammad Aamer and Umar Gul have been a serious threat to New Zealand through the series, but they might also be a danger to each other. During the second Test the pair reportedly got into a heated verbal scuffle on the third day, and both were fined heavily as the team management tried to hush up the altercation. Keep an eye out for when they are next bowling in tandem, or batting together.
Ian O'Brien has been charging in all series, into the wind, with a dislocated finger. Now comes his last Test and he goes into it as the joint-highest wicket-taker, just off his highest Test score. There was another setback, after he went off early from fielding practice, presumably worried about his injured finger. But what odds he overlooks that all and turns all that determination and effort into a series-winning hand?
Daniel Vettori has said he'll be batting at No.6 to accommodate an extra bowler. He added it was a toss-up between four seamers, and three seamers and two spinners - so either Tim Southee, who has the edge with the grass cover on the track, or Jeetan Patel. BJ Watling, replacing Peter Fulton, is likely to make his Test debut. He comes in with good form, having made 90 and 136 in his last first-class game, but his career average is 30.
New Zealand: 1 Tim McIntosh, 2 BJ Watling, 3 Martin Guptill, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Daniel Flynn, 6 Daniel Vettori (capt), 7 Brendon McCullum (wk), 8 Tim Southee/ Jeetan Patel, 9 Daryl Tuffey, 10 Ian O'Brien, 11 Chris Martin.
Pakistan are also likely to make one change; both Mohammad Yousuf and Intikhab Alam have said that Shoaib Malik, who has endured his worst Test series for a while, is unlikely to play. Faisal Iqbal thus has a chance to shift up from a perennial backbencher spot, maybe even at one-down.
Pakistan: 1 Imran Farhat, 2 Salman Butt, 3 Faisal Iqbal, 4 Mohammad Yousuf (capt), 5 Misbah-ul-Haq, 6 Umar Akmal, 7 Kamran Akmal (wk), 8 Mohammad Aamer, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Danish Kaneria, 11 Mohammad Asif.
Pitch and conditions McLean Park usually likes batsmen and only twice this decade has any side been bowled out for less than 250. But with the pitch preparations complete, a healthy amount of grass has been left on the surface and there is enough moisture around to keep fast bowlers happy. The sun might also shine through and if it remains warm and dry, then reverse swing might make a welcome appearance.
Stats and trivia
"All three seamers bring something different; the left-armer [Mohammad Aamer] who bangs it in, the line-length bowler [Asif] who bowls in outstanding areas and [Umar] Gul who mixes it up a bit, so it's important we counter these different factors."
Daniel Vettori on Pakistan's bowling attack.
Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala