Just four white-ball internationals into New Zealand's home summer and two fringe players have delivered record-breaking performances. Glenn Phillips became New Zealand's fastest T20I centurion, while more recently on Friday, Jacob Duffy returned the best T20I figures by a New Zealander on debut. Duffy will now reunite with his domestic side Otago, but despite that, New Zealand will only be getting stronger thanks to the comebacks of new dad Kane Williamson, Tim Southee and Trent Boult, among others.
Look who's back— BLACKCAPS (@BLACKCAPS) December 19, 2020
We couldn't keep new father Kane Williamson away from the nets for long as he rejoins the T20 squad in Hamilton ahead of Sunday night's 2nd T20I #NZvPAK #CricketNation pic.twitter.com/D2LhtbA538
Williamson returned to the Seddon Park nets on the eve of the second T20I against Pakistan and was warmly welcomed back by his team-mates and coaches. The captain is set to regain his No. 3 spot, with Devon Conway and Phillips possibly shifting down the order. New Zealand, though, will be without their gun spinner and Hamilton local Mitchell Santner, who has got a break following T20 appearances in the CPL and the IPL followed by a brief stint as New Zealand's T20I captain. Coach Gary Stead conceded that Santner's absence was a "big loss", but was looking forward to testing out the other spin options in Ish Sodhi and Todd Astle as the team management plans for next year's T20 World Cup in India.
As for Pakistan, they need to shake off the rust, which was evident during the series opener at Eden Park. Wicketkeeper-opener Mohammad Rizwan laboured to a run-a-ball 17 and the rest of the top order too struggled to deal with the bounce. Seddon Park is unlikely to be as bouncy as Eden Park was, but for an inexperienced side to quickly adjust to the New Zealand conditions is tough, as stand-in captain Shadab Khan pointed out.
Despite the top-order troubles and fumbles in the field, Haris Rauf and Shaheen Afridi made a fist of Pakistan's defence and discomfited New Zealand's middle order at various points. If Rauf and co. could do more of the same and find greater support from the batsmen, Pakistan could well force the series into a decider at McLean Park on Tuesday.
Last five completed matches, most recent first
New Zealand WWWLT (lost Super Over)
In the spotlight
Brendon McCullum was particularly impressed with how Tim Seifert put his ego aside and floated in the middle order for the Trinbago Knight Riders in the CPL earlier this year. On Friday, Seifert shelved his trick shots again - this time at the top - and dragged the chase deep. Over the winter, he has also worked on his wicketkeeping, and will end this year as a more well-rounded cricketer than he was at the start of 2020.
Nobody has taken more T20 wickets than Haris Rauf (55) and Shaheen Afridi (50) this year. Not even Rashid Khan even though he has had the benefit of playing more matches than the Pakistan pair. With Pakistan's batting appearing light in the absence of both Babar Azam and Fakhar Zaman - it will appear even lighter if Mohammad Hafeez misfires again - Rauf and Afridi will have to do the heavy lifting.
The excitement of becoming a new dad meant Williamson couldn't get enough sleep over the week, but it may be time that the opposition lost some sleep over how to dismiss him on the field. With a number of other first-choice players returning, Duffy, Doug Bracewell, Mark Chapman and Blair Tickner have forced out of the squad. Canterbury seam-bowling allrounder and another new(ish) dad Daryl Mitchell is likely to replace Santner.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Tim Seifert (wk), 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Devon Conway, 5 Glenn Phillips, 6 Jimmy Neesham, 7 Daryl Mitchell, 8 Scott Kuggeleijn/Kyle Jamieson, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Ish Sodhi
Abdullah Shafique, who turned 21 last month, could be given another chance to prove himself at the top along with Rizwan. Allrounder Faheem Ashraf, who was Pakistan's second-highest scorer in the first T20I, could also get another go ahead of Iftikhar Ahmed.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Abdullah Shafique, 2 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 3 Haider Ali, 4 Mohammad Hafeez, 5 Shadab Khan (capt), 6 Khushdil Shah, 7 Imad Wasim, 8 Faheem Ashraf, 9 Wahab Riaz, 10 Shaheen Afridi, 11 Haris Rauf
Pitch and conditions
Seddon Park has been good for batting in recent times in white-ball cricket. The last T20I played at this venue resulted in a Super-Over victory for India earlier this year. Prior to that, the side batting first had won five out of nine T20Is at this venue.
Stats and trivia
- Since his T20I debut in May 2015, Imad Wasim has picked up 21 wickets in the powerplay at an excellent economy rate of 6.38. Only Oman's Bilal Khan and England's David Willey have more T20I wickets than Wasim in the first six overs during this period.
- Legspinner Sodhi needs four wickets to overtake Nathan McCullum as New Zealand's second-highest wicket-taker in T20Is. Southee currently tops the charts with 81 strikes.
- Shadab has had the wood over Martin Guptill, having dismissed him thrice in 18 balls in all T20 cricket for a mere 15 runs.
"They [Pakistan players] did well in the National T20 and played well in the Zimbabwe series too. But the conditions are different because we played against Zimbabwe at home, not New Zealand. But the more cricket they play here, the better they will do."
Pakistan captain Shadab Khan outlines the challenge for his team
"He's quite tired, a bit bleary-eyed, I think. But overall, he's hitting them well. Just normal Kane, gets about his business."
New Zealand head coach Gary Stead is happy to have Williamson back
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo