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Starting well the key as series returns to Abu Dhabi for decider

Ross Taylor sets off for a run Getty Images

Big picture

After everything that could go wrong, went wrong for Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, everything that could work, worked like a charm for them in Dubai. In many ways the hosts have stayed true to their reputation of blowing hot and cold, epitomised by the dramatic batting collapse in the first Test and an equally compelling win, orchestrated by a spell of legspin bowling that had all the necessary elements of a magic trick - drift, drop and turn.

But you wouldn't want to clap yet, because New Zealand have shown an eye for picking up clues, evidenced by a much-improved second-innings batting effort in Dubai, which they would hope to replicate in the decider.

However, it is not through their batsmen that they have competed overseas in the last three years. Leaving aside their tour of Zimbabwe, their batsmen have put up a total of over 300 only once, which was in the second innings of the last Test. Their only away win (barring Zimbabwe again) came in Abu Dhabi in the first Test, and much of it was a consequence of keeping pace with Pakistan through disciplined bowling, allowing tension to build, before the hosts' implosion gave them the series lead.

Craig McMillan has urged his batsmen to come up with clear and precise plans against Yasir Shah, but truth be told, if he bowls like he did in the first innings in Dubai, New Zealand will need their bowlers to match him by producing a different kind of magic, one that's synergistic in nature, a combined effect greater than the sum of its individual parts. The toss may again prove crucial, lending a distinct advantage to whoever bats first.

Form guide

New Zealand LWDWW (Last five Tests, most recent first)
Pakistan WLWDL

In the spotlight

Shaheen Afridi has been drafted into the squad for the injured Mohammad Abbas. Large boots to fill, figuratively, given Abbas's impact in recent Test matches, but in a short international career Shaheen has shown he could be the perfect fit. He tormented New Zealand in the ODIs, picking up nine wickets in three matches, and his first-class numbers are even more impressive, highlighted by a record-shattering 8 for 39 on debut. His height and pace, in tandem with Yasir's dip and turn, promise to pose a unique challenge to the visitors.

Despite a modest record in Asia, Ross Taylor has played some of the stand-out innings for New Zealand against spin, particularly a rollicking hundred in Bengaluru and a match-winning one in Colombo. Both those knocks may now seem like fables from a medieval past, but in the absence of Brendon McCullum, who through his intrepid approach laid the foundation for a series-levelling win the last time New Zealand were here, Taylor is the one New Zealand batsman capable of replicating those heroics. He may not be one to dance down the track and deposit bowlers over the sightscreen like McCullum, but he possesses a delicate cut and a powerful sweep that could be equally effective tools when it comes to manipulating the field against Pakistan's spinners.

Team news

Pakistan are going to be without Mohammad Abbas, who has been ruled out of the decider due to a shoulder injury. Shaheen Afridi will replace him. But Pakistan might consider another change, which is the inclusion of allrounder Faheem Ashraf to bolster the lower order and bowl seam in place of Bilal Asif.

Pakistan (possible): 1 Imam-ul-Haq, 2 Mohammad Hafeez, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Haris Sohail, 5 Asad Shafiq, 6 Babar Azam, 7 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 8 Bilal Asif/Faheem Ashraf, 9 Hasan Ali, 10 Yasir Shah, 11 Shaheen Afridi

With the series on the line and 20 wickets paramount, New Zealand may be lured into replacing Colin de Grandhomme with the experienced Tim Southee, who much like Taylor has produced a couple of outstanding performances in Asia in the past. Although effective with the new ball, de Grandhomme is rendered just a support bowler once the shine wears off, and his batting, with a highest score of 14 in four innings in this series, has hardly warranted continued selection. However, at least on paper, that switch would lengthen New Zealand's tail, so another option could be to keep faith in de Grandhomme and replace Neil Wagner, who has only three wickets in the series, with Southee.

New Zealand (possible): 1 Tom Latham, 2 Jeet Raval, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 BJ Watling (wk), 7 Colin de Grandhomme, 8 Ish Sodhi, 9 Neil Wagner, 10 Ajaz Patel, 11 Trent Boult

Pitch and conditions

Six of the last seven Tests in Abu Dhabi have gone to the side batting first, and the other was drawn. The return to Abu Dhabi, which also hosted the first Test, would please the seamers on both sides, as its pitch offers at least a modicum of assistance: the quicks have taken seven five-wicket hauls here, compared to just one in Dubai.

Stats and trivia

  • If New Zealand manage to win the third Test, it will be their first series win in seven away/neutral series against Pakistan. The last time they won a Test series away from home against Pakistan was in 1969-70.

  • Yasir Shah is five wickets away from becoming the quickest bowler to 200 Test wickets, and bettering the current record-holder by a fair margin. Yasir has 195 wickets from 32 Tests. Clarrie Grimmett took his 200th wicket in his 36th Test.

Quotes

"If you look at Asian venues teams prefer to bat first and the advantage is that if you score a big total then you don't need to bat in the fourth innings so obviously any team playing here thinks winning the toss is good."
Sarfraz Ahmed on the advantage of batting first in the UAE

"I guess it was about 45 minutes of madness against someone like Yasir Shah who came out with an outstanding performance and put us under pressure to turn around the Test around from then on."Kane Williamson on what went wrong in Dubai