Just one night remaining for the Pakistan fans as the Men In Green is all set to take on New Zealand at Eden Park, Auckland in the first T20I of the three-match series.
Pakistan has dealt with a major blow as their regular skipper Babar Azam has been ruled out of the series due to a thumb injury and the question arises, is Pakistan capable of competing in his absence?
Babar’s unavailability is going to hurt Pakistan as he has almost scored 23% of the runs since his debut in this format. There are also concerns on who will open in his absence. Opener Fakhar Zaman was also withdrawn from the squad before the tour and he was his partner in the last two series against England and Zimbabwe.
Great opportunity for youngsters
Despite this, young guns now play a huge role in this series as they have the perfect platform to express themselves. The likes of Abdullah Shafiq, Haider Ali, and Khushdil Shah have a chance to prove their mettle after brilliant performances in the National T20 Cup.
There are reports that the wicket-keeper batsman Mohammad Rizwan will open the innings. His strike-rate has always been questionable but this will be his first opportunity to shut his critics if he bats up the top of the order. He showed a glimpse of what he can do in the National T20 Cup as he scored 389 runs with a strike-rate of 127.96 and led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the title win.
The role of pacers will come in handy on New Zealand pitches and Green Shirts have pacers that can bowl around 150 kph. Shaheen Shah who will lead the attack will play a huge part upfront and at the backend of the innings.
The spin department is vastly experienced in the form of the game. Stand-in captain Shadab and Imad Wasim will look to hold the innings on the small grounds of New Zealand. They will be accompanied by Iftikhar Ahmed and veteran Mohammad Hafeez with their valuable off-spin.
On the other hand, the Kiwis are coming off a 2-0 series win over West Indies but they would be under pressure as Pakistan has beaten them in their last five meetings.
New Zealand without main players
They are also weakened for the first T20I as regular skipper Kane Williamson will miss the match as he is on paternity leave while Lockie Ferguson is injured.
Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Kyle Jamieson and Daryl Mitchell will all miss this opening game as they are rested following the second Test with West Indies so pace bowler Blair Tickner, batsman Mark Chapman and allrounder Doug Bracewell will stay with the squad for this encounter.
The side will be led by Mitchell Santner and will have the services of experienced Martin Guptill and Jamie Neesham.
New Zealand is marginally favored due to their knowledge of the conditions and even without main stars, they have enough depth to score big and defend it with the bowlers they have available just like they executed against Windies. Without Babar Azam, Pakistan does look a little short in the batting order but taking them lightly will be a judgment of error.
The temperature in Auckland is expected to be around 20°C, with 73% humidity and 21 km/hr wind speed in the North-Eastern direction. There are 10% chances of rain-interruptions during the match, similarly to what we witness in the match against New Zealand and Westindies.
Pitch is expected to be a balter as Eden Park is considered to be a paradise for batsmen. The first T20I of the three-match series will start at 11.00 am (PST) with toss 30 minutes prior to the game.