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November 8, 2009
There is always a greater thrust to the affairs of a short series. Momentum changes quicker, faults have to be identified and rectified sooner, form has to be found, urgency is everything. As brightly as Pakistan began this three-match contest, it is New Zealand who now hold the whip and it hasn't even been a week since it all started.
In coming back to level the series, New Zealand were magnificent. Like Australia here earlier in the year, their batsmen took some time, but eventually adjusted to the conditions; in Brendon McCullum's case, he adjusted to a lot more than just conditions and all of New Zealand will hope that it might be the start of something special. He got good support from his colleagues, none more than Martin Guptill. The lower order, as long as Daniel Vettori is leading it, does not crumble readily.
The bowling is actually in better shape than many could have expected. Scott Styris' magic hand - if ever wickets were conjured from nothing, it was in that spell in the second ODI - was a bonus but Shane Bond, Kyle Mills, Tim Southee and Vettori himself have threatened. The fielding - outstanding in the win - is a bowling option in itself.
As ever in Pakistan, one loss has sent people into a tizzy. Ex-players, dormant in victory, become hyenas in defeat. Agendas are pushed, fingers pointed, conspiracies peddled. On paper, in the cold light of day, the problem is simple: the middle order clicked one game, their top order the other and what they wouldn't give to make them work together at the same time.
But some of the unease might be valid. Albeit from a distance, the pressure seems to be telling on Younis Khan. There are less smiles and the lack of runs - coupled with the headlines the deputy is garnering - has not helped. Neither have decisions without any kind of logic, dropping Umar Akmal for example. Why on earth drop him? Rest, as management said later? A mere boy who has played ten ODIs? Had they said a dog ate him, more people might have believed it.
They will have to get it right, for otherwise New Zealand will do to Pakistan what Sri Lanka did earlier this year in another short, sharp challenge. Thumped in the first game, they stormed back to win the series with two thumpings of their own.
Form Guide(most recent first)
New Zealand - WLLWW
Pakistan - LWLLW
Watch out for
The gap between New Zealand and Pakistan's fielding during the second ODI was wider than that between the rich and poor in most third world countries. Matches are not always won and lost on the fielding, but over time, over a series of matches, it's funny how often the better fielding sides come out on top.
Also keep an eye out for the toss. The side who has won it has batted first and won the game. Conditions haven't deteriorated as such, just that the targets have always been too steep.
There wouldn't be much reason for New Zealand to change their line-up. Perhaps Nathan McCullum's dropping for Neil Broom was a little hasty, though, Vettori as a spinner is more than enough for Pakistan to handle.
New Zealand: 1 Aaron Redmond, 2 Brendon McCullum (wk), 3 Martin Guptill, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Scott Styris, 6 Neil Broom, 7 Jacob Oram, 8 Daniel Vettori (capt), 9 Tim Southee, 10 Kyle Mills, 11 Shane Bond.
Pakistan: Who knows? They might make a number of changes, or none at all. The younger Akmal should play though whether he will is altogether a different thing.
Pakistan: 1 Salman Butt, 2 Khalid Latif, 3 Younis Khan (capt), 4 Mohammad Yousuf, 5 Shoaib Malik/Umar Akmal, 6 Shahid Afridi, 7 Kamran Akmal (wk), 8 Abdul Razzaq, 9 Mohammad Aamer, 10 Umar Gul, 11 Saeed Ajmal.
Pitch and conditions
Not likely to be different from the surfaces for the first two games so batting first will be the preferable option. There was some talk of drizzle, but snowballs in hell sound more likely.
Stats and trivia
"It can happen to any player. I am sure he can come good anytime, maybe in this crucial, must-win game."
Pakistan coach Intikhab Alam on Younis' form.
"Pakistan can come back hard on us, so we must be ready for that, but I think there's something left for us as a lot of guys who, I suppose, need to perform on this tour and those who have performed need to do that once more."
Daniel Vettori warns of a backlash
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?