Ronchi pushes Neesham for Test spot
New Zealand are set to make at least one change to their batting line-up as they seek to level the Test series against Pakistan, but know that it will be a major challenge for whichever XI they send out to overcome the hosts in Sharjah.
The draw in Dubai, where on the final day New Zealand had Pakistan nervous before tea, lifted confidence after the comprehensive reversal in the opening Test. However, breaking down the performance there were at least a couple of moments when more ruthlessness could have brought even greater rewards.
They had been 226 for 2 in the first innings, but ended up needing their lower-order's help to scrape past 400. Then they had Pakistan 312 for 9 in their first innings before a last-wicket stand of 81 between Sarfraz Ahmed and Rahat Ali brought the scores almost level.
Both in terms of runs and time used up, that was a vital period and the difference between New Zealand having an even stronger chance to force a result on the final day - and it needed Ross Taylor's impressive hundred to prevent a likely Pakistan victory.
In the middle order, Jimmy Neesham, despite being the first New Zealander to score hundreds in his first two Tests, has emerged as the most vulnerable after a lean two Tests where he has struggled against spin. So too, has Corey Anderson but he was more robust in the first Test and his bowling is a notch more threatening than Neesham's, whose one wicket in the series was a long hop smashed to cover by Younis Khan.
"We'll definitely consider changes," Mike Hesson, the New Zealand coach, said. "We considered it before this [second] Test and we had some good discussions over the make-up of the side and we'll continue those."
Luke Ronchi is shaping as the man to push for inclusion, partly due to his recent strong form in ODIs, with scores of 99 and 79 against South Africa, but also as he is a right-hander and that is viewed as a way of being able to counter threat posed by Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah, who have targeted the pads and stumps of the left-handers with deliveries spinning into them.
However, one change in batting personnel is unlikely to quell the threat posed by the Pakistan spinners, especially on a surface that is already shorn of any semblance of grass two days out from the match.
"In the other two pitches we could see grass, but not here. This looks a bit different. Sharjah traditionally is lower and skiddier and slows up as the game goes on. So I don't expect this wicket to be any different," Hesson said. "The warm-up game we had played here had lot more grass on it. We have to play very well to be able to compete in these conditions."
Their bowling attack is likely to be bolstered with the surprise inclusion of Daniel Vettori, who was already with the New Zealand A team in the UAE, taking the spinners' count to three in the team. Ish Sodhi, the legspinner, has impressed in patches but the Pakistan batsmen have made a conscious effort to attack offspinner Mark Craig whose Test economy rate is over four an over.
"Our spinners aren't used to bowling on conditions where footholes play such a part. Pakistan spinners beat us off the wicket and at home traditionally we try and beat guys in the air," Hesson said. "When you have footholes to hit, it's very hard to change the method that you've trained your whole life. I thought the way Ish and Mark have adapted over the last couple of Tests is pleasing but they are still striving for consistency of pace as well."