A bunch of globe-trotting T20 specialists couldn't stop the Pakistan juggernaut in the first T20I
, but they have convinced the top-ranked side that they have an equal footing in the series. New Zealand have already shown the hosts that this series is unlikely to be similar to the one against Australia. This, despite the fact that the New Zealand side has combined after a seven-month hiatus from international cricket. Pakistan know that their winning streak is under threat, even as they eye their 11th successive series win in the shortest format.
The result didn't particularly seem to disappoint the visiting captain Kane Williamson
, who was all smiles at the post-match presentation. His team had given him little reason to criticise them. His pacers troubled the batsmen, and spinners Ajaz Patel and Ish Sodhi, despite their limited experience in these conditions, were as impressive as their Pakistan counterparts. His fielders were electrifying; they took three brilliant catches and inflicted a run-out on the day. The batsmen showed signs of struggle only in middle overs, where they lost three wickets for 10 runs, but a brief period of recovery followed. On Friday, he would be hoping to win the toss and put up a testing total, now that he knows what ails Pakistan.
And Pakistan's batting fell apart again. In the three T20Is against Australia, they heavily depended on Babar Azam and Mohammad Hafeez to do the bulk of scoring and later hoped their bowlers would finish the job, and they found themselves in a similar situation on Wednesday. With Babar's failure, it was Hafeez who came to the rescue. The pressure situation also forced some changes in the batting order, with Asif Ali and Sarfraz Ahmed batting higher up than usual, which brought in some stability and quick runs.
Pakistan do have one of the best bowling units in the world, and it was on full display when their youngest player with an experience of just nine international games, showed oodles of discipline while bowling to two T20 veterans with a combined experience of 134 T20Is. Shaheen Afridi
didn't break a sweat while he was trying to defend 16 runs off the last over, neither letting Ross Taylor nor Tim Southee take a chance to go big.
Pakistan WWWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand LLLLW
In the spotlight
The in-form Mohammad Hafeez had yet another great outing on Wednesday. He led Pakistan's recovery and made a 36-ball 45 after the openers fell early, attacking the pacers and the spinners alike. He also bowled three miserly overs and stifled the opposition batsmen with his offspin.
Adam Milne was the pick of New Zealand bowlers. He struck in his very first over to dismiss the top-ranked T20I batsman Babar Azam and then came back in the 12th over to send Hafeez back, with the short ball doing the trick both times. If he puts in a similar performance in the second T20I, he will increase New Zealand's chances of leveling the series.
Pakistan's decision to go with Afridi for the role of the second seamer instead of Usman Khan had paid off. Hasan Ali was seen limping, clutching his hamstring around the 15th over of New Zealand's innings, but he came in to bowl the very next over and did not show any signs of struggle later. A fitness test ahead of the game will decide if Fakhar Zaman, who missed the last two T20Is, will play.
Pakistan (probable XI): 1 Babar Azam, 2 Sahibzada Farhan, 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Shoaib Malik, 5 Asif Ali, 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt & wk), 7 Faheem Ashraf, 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Shadab Khan, 10 Hasan Ali, 11 Shaheen Afridi
New Zealand are expected to go with the same combination. It is unlikely that they would bring in allrounder Seth Rance in place of Corey Anderson or Colin de Grandhomme in the must-win game.
New Zealand (probable XI): 1 Colin Munro, 2 Glenn Phillips (wk), 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Mark Chapman, 6 Corey Anderson, 7 Colin de Grandhomme, 8 Tim Southee, 9 Ish Sodhi, 10 Ajaz Patel, 11 Adam Milne
Pitch and conditions
No surprises. Hot and dry conditions await both the sides.
Stats and trivia
- Babar Azam is 88 runs away from becoming the sixth Pakistan batsman to reach the 1000-run landmark in T20Is
- In ten innings in 2018, Kane Williamson has scored just 154 runs, with only one fifty
"It's the nature of the whole series. Quite a quick turnaround. In just two sleeps, you're back with another chance. Hopefully we can square the series tomorrow and push it to a decider."
New Zealand fast bowler Tim Southee on the scheduling of matches in the series
Sruthi Ravindranath is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo