Ask any New Zealand cricketer which team he leasts prefer to play, and the answer will probably be Pakistan. Over the last two decades, Pakistan have been the one team - apart from the all-conquering Australians, of course - that New Zealand have failed to decipher. In individual sports there is often an issue of match-ups, where the strength of a player may be particularly effective against one opponent but not so against the others, but in this case it seems to apply in a team game as well, as New Zealand have collectively failed to come up with the answers against Pakistan's mercurial outfits.

The latest example was in the ICC World Twenty20, when New Zealand considerably ruined their chances of making the last four by not only losing, but being destroyed, by Pakistan in their Super Eights game. It was the second time they had met in the World Twenty20 - they'd played in the semi-final in 2007 - and the second time they came out at the wrong end of the result. (In contrast, New Zealand have played India three times in Twenty20 internationals, and once in a warm-up game, and haven't lost once.)

And it isn't just in the shortest format that New Zealand have struggled to solve the Pakistan mystery. The story has been depressingly familiar in ODIs too: in 59 games against them since 1990, New Zealand have lost 40 and won only 18. Pakistan have been virtually unbeatable at home with 14 wins in 15 games, but even at other venues they've won the most important games. On the five occasions that the teams have met in World Cups, New Zealand have lost each time, including twice each in the 1992 and 1999 editions. Two of those matches - in 1992 and 1999 - were semi-finals, which indicates New Zealand are probably the favourite opponents for Pakistan, especially on the big stage. Even against Australia, New Zealand have done better in World Cup games, winning two out of five.

The table below lists New Zealand's ODI record against each team, and the only side which has a better win-loss ratio against them than Pakistan is Australia. It's against Pakistan, though, that New Zealand's batsmen have struggled the most - the average and the run rate against them is lower than against any other side.

New Zealand in ODIs against each team since Jan 1990
Opposition Played Won/ lost Ratio Bat ave/ run rate Bowl ave/ econ rate
Australia 78 20/ 55 0.36 26.00/ 4.64 37.54/ 5.09
Pakistan 59 18/ 40 0.45 25.25/ 4.54 31.98/ 4.73
South Africa 50 17/ 29 0.58 27.72/ 4.60 34.73/ 4.84
Sri Lanka 49 19/ 26 0.73 25.45/ 4.37 29.78/ 4.67
India 54 25/ 24 1.04 29.01/ 4.80 31.96/ 4.90
England 42 23/ 16 1.43 30.22/ 4.67 26.57/ 4.53
West Indies 38 19/ 13 1.46 31.32/ 4.83 28.82/ 4.62
Zimbabwe 26 17/ 7 2.42 37.38/ 5.22 27.14/ 4.64
Bangladesh 14 13/ 1 13.00 37.88/ 5.08 18.31/ 3.56

The story is similar in Tests as well, though there are a few other sides that New Zealand have struggled against in the long version - they have poorer win-loss ratios against Australia, South Africa and England. However, their batting average against Pakistan - which, by some statistical quirk, is exactly the same in both forms of the game - is the lowest again, suggesting that Pakistan's often deadly mix of reverse swing and spin has troubled New Zealand more than most other bowling attacks.

Historically too, some of the heaviest defeats for New Zealand have come against Pakistan: the loss by an innings and 324 runs in Lahore in 2002 is their worst in Tests (among innings defeats), while the 299-run loss in Auckland a year earlier is the second-largest margin in terms of runs.

The story is similar in the shorter versions too - in Sharjah in 1986, Pakistan beat them by ten wickets with 164 balls to spare, their heaviest defeat batting first. And their defeat in the World Twenty20, with 41 balls remaining, is their worst in terms of balls to spare in the shortest format.

New Zealand in Tests against each team since Jan 1990
Opposition Played Won/ lost Ratio Bat ave Bowl ave
Australia 23 2/ 14 0.14 26.55 43.82
South Africa 18 2/ 11 0.18 28.16 41.65
England 28 4/ 15 0.26 28.29 35.05
Pakistan 16 3/ 11 0.27 25.25 34.71
Sri Lanka 18 5/ 5 1.00 32.38 31.50
India 19 4/ 3 1.33 35.69 38.74
West Indies 13 5/ 2 2.50 33.63 33.32
Zimbabwe 13 7/ 0 - 42.91 26.72
Bangladesh 8 7/ 0 - 43.03 17.77

The problem area for New Zealand against Pakistan has clearly been with the bat, so here's a look at how their batsmen have fared against them since 1990, and their overall stats during this period.

A couple of names on top of this table have fine stats against Pakistan - both Stephen Fleming and Craig McMillan have better stats against Pakistan than against other sides - but for most of the batsmen, Pakistan haven't been a happy opposition to play against. Nathan Astle, Roger Twose, Mark Greatbatch, Jacob Oram and Brendon McCullum have all done poorly against Pakistan during this period, while the current captain's batting record is quite embarrassing - 35 runs at an average of 5.83.

New Zealand v Pakistan in ODIs since 1990
Batsman ODIs Runs Average/ Strike rate Ave/ SR v all teams since 1990
Stephen Fleming 35 1090 34.06/ 69.29 32.41/ 71.40
Craig McMillan 20 744 49.60/ 82.20 28.18/ 75.94
Chris Cairns 33 697 26.80/ 87.34 29.22/ 83.76
Nathan Astle 25 662 27.58/ 79.95 34.92/ 72.64
Scott Styris 15 435 43.50/ 72.86 32.58/ 78.89
Roger Twose 14 417 29.78/ 73.15 38.81/ 75.40
Martin Crowe 10 402 50.25/ 74.16 44.98/ 70.59
Bryan Young 18 358 19.88/ 60.16 24.52/ 61.03
Ken Rutherford 16 354 22.12/ 54.12 31.63/ 67.44
Mark Greatbatch 16 246 16.40/ 58.99 27.30/ 69.74
Jacob Oram 20 231 15.40/ 78.83 24.65/ 83.41
Lou Vincent 14 225 20.45/ 53.06 27.11/ 69.88
Andrew Jones 11 172 15.63/ 40.18 28.79/ 55.23
Brendon McCullum 14 125 17.85/ 80.12 28.44/ 89.08
Daniel Vettori 18 35 5.83/ 87.50 15.05/ 79.30

The story is somewhat similar in the Tests too, though there are more batsmen who've done well. Fleming has impressive numbers again, as does Mark Richardson, the former opener. Another batsman who has outstanding numbers in both forms of the game is Martin Crowe, arguably New Zealand's best-ever Test batsman. Waqar Younis had famously called him the best batsman he'd bowled to, and a look at his stats against Pakistan indicates why he said so.

For some of the other batsmen, though, it's been one huge struggle. Check out the stats for Nathan Astle - in five Tests against Pakistan, he's managed a grand total of 22 runs, at a miserable average of 3.14.

New Zealand batsmen in Tests against Pakistan since 1990
Batsman Tests Runs Average Ave v all teams since 1990
Stephen Fleming 9 665 47.50 40.06
Mark Richardson 6 507 50.70 44.77
Mark Greatbatch 9 375 20.83 23.29
Bryan Young 6 369 30.75 31.78
Ken Rutherford 7 332 23.71 31.29
Mathew Sinclair 3 325 108.33 32.55
Andrew Jones 4 319 39.87 45.22
Chris Cairns 5 249 24.90 33.92
Matthew Bell 3 248 49.60 24.30
Martin Crowe 3 244 61.00 45.43
Craig McMillan 6 242 26.88 38.46
Daniel Vettori 3 213 42.60 28.42
Lou Vincent 3 94 15.67 34.15
Scott Styris 2 89 22.25 36.04
Nathan Astle 5 22 3.14 37.02

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo