Can Pakistan rediscover ODI form against traditional whipping boys?
Pakistan have been dismal against the top ODI sides lately, but a 3-0 sweep in the T20Is, and a proud past ODI record against New Zealand should give them the ideal opportunity to set that right
The curious case of the disparity between Pakistan's T20I and ODI form would have Benjamin Button perplexed. While Pakistan's T20I form over the last two years has defied logic, their ODI record against the stronger teams is almost the other side of that coin. Against Australia, South Africa, India, New Zealand and England over that same period, Pakistan have lost 17 out of 21 ODIs. Three of the four wins came in that mind-boggling run to the Champions Trophy final, which, as far as 50-over cricket is concerned, is beginning to look like the exception to the rule. Against New Zealand, a side traditionally considered whipping boys for them, Pakistan have now lost 11 ODIs on the bounce, stretching back to when Kane Williamson's men were last on these shores. New Zealand are worlds removed from the side Pakistan were so successful against through much of the 90s and 2000s, but such a lengthy unbroken streak is bound to leave psychological scars. Coming off the back of an ordinary Asia Cup, this is an especially difficult series to begin building towards the 2019 World Cup, even if Pakistan do so off the back of a perfect T20I scoreline against the same opposition.
Pakistan have controlled the middle overs superbly in T20Is of late, but they will have to demonstrate the same mastery in the longer format to start seeing more success. While Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan can asphyxiate a side in T20Is due to the pressure for quick runs, New Zealand will be far more content with rotating the strike in the ODIs and keeping wickets in tact for a big finish. How the spinners can adapt to that may shape the direction of the upcoming three games in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
New Zealand's backroom staff will be drumming these numbers into their head to wash away the T20I memories. In a squad that seems to be just the right mix of experience and youth, there are plenty of players whose games would translate very well to Abu Dhabi's surface.
New Zealand have won both the ODI series they've played against Pakistan since the latter relocated permanently to the Emirates. They will also be bolstered by the return of Trent Boult, who was away on paternity leave for the T20I series.
With Williamson, Colin Munro, Ross Taylor and Tom Latham at the top of the order, they have both destructors and constructors, and should Tim Southee and Boult struggle to get much swing or seam movement, Lockie Ferguson can try his luck with sheer pace. Ish Sodhi and Ajaz Patel will have slightly more time to settle on their lines and lengths. They are a well-balanced side, and will be confident of making it a dozen in a row against Sarfraz Ahmed's men.
New Zealand LWLLW
In the spotlight
Sarfraz Ahmed's status as Pakistan captain has received a fair bit of attention in the past week, with newly appointed committee chairman Mohsin Khan suggesting Sarfraz be relieved of his duties in at least one format. It provoked mass media coverage and speculation about his role intensified. And while there's no imminent danger of him losing the armband, the scrutiny around his personal performances will be significant. Sarfraz has rarely been called upon in pressure situations while Pakistan beat weaker teams like Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka over the past year, and when he has been required - as was the case in the Asia Cup - he hasn't quite got his side over the line. The last time he scored over 15 runs in a match that Pakistan won came all the way back in the Champions Trophy against Sri Lanka. In a series against a fiercely competitive New Zealand side, Pakistan cannot afford to be carrying any passengers, least of all their captain. In his short international career so far, nearly all of Colin de Grandhomme's highlights have come against Pakistan. It is a fact most Pakistanis haven't missed, and there has been much self-deprecating humour surrounding it. One meme depicted de Grandhomme transforming into Gary Sobers when facing Pakistan. The history behind that is he has turned in astonishing performances with both bat and ball against Sarfraz's men. On debut, he took 6 for 41 on the first day in Christchurch in 2016 to help his side beat Pakistan. Earlier this year, he dug New Zealand out of a hole in a tricky ODI chase against the same side, smashing an unbeaten 74 off 40 balls to take New Zealand home comfortably. Whatever it is, he seems to like playing against Pakistan, and Sarfraz Ahmed will be uniquely aware of the threat he poses.
It's a bit of a toss-up to see who Pakistan leave out, given how well both T20I series went, and the successful reintroduction of both Mohammad Hafeez and Imad Wasim since the Asia Cup. An abundance of options can sometimes befuddle a team's thought process, but it's hardly the worst problem to have.
Pakistan (probable XI): 1 Imam-ul-Haq, 2 Fakhar Zaman, 3 Babar Azam, 4 Shoaib Malik, 5, Mohammad Hafeez 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt & wk), 7 Faheem Ashraf, 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Shadab Khan, 10 Hasan Ali, 11 Shaheen Afridi/Usman Shinwari/Junaid Khan
New Zealand have come into this ODI series with several all-round options of their own. They also have no less than four out-and-out seamers to choose from, and therefore aren't short of decisions to make either.
New Zealand (probable XI): 1 Colin Munro 2 Tom Latham 3 Kane Williamson 4 Colin de Grandhomme 5 Ross Taylor 6 Henry Nicholls 7 Todd Astle 8 Tim Southee/Trent Boult 9 Lockie Ferguson 10 Ajaz Patel 11 Ish Sodhi
Pitch and conditions
The afternoon start means dew could be a factor in the second innings, but since it remains uncomfortably hot during the day, teams may find it easier to field at night, as several of them did during the Asia Cup.
Tom Latham has a significantly better record playing away from home as compared to when he bats in New Zealand. In 29 ODIs away from home, he averages 45, with three hundreds. At home, that drops down to 23, with just one three-figure score.
In 42 matches at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, only two have seen scores in excess of 300. Both were scored by Pakistan, once against Sri Lanka in 2007, and against West Indies in 2016.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000