Preview: Pakistan to face their biggest challenge since Champions Trophy

Preview: Pakistan to face their biggest challenge since Champions Trophy

Pakistan and New Zealand will lock horns in the five-match ODI series with the first game scheduled to be played on Saturday at Wellington under overcast conditions.

Pakistan have been in red-hot form since their Champions Trophy triumph in June 2017. The Men in Green have performed exceptionally well under the captaincy of Sarfraz Ahmed, who has led his team to eleven wins in thirteen matches.

The inclusion of fresh blood in the team has been extremely fruitful for them. Players like Hasan Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan, Babar Azam and Faheem Ashraf have been instrumental in Pakistan’s consistent run in the limited-over cricket since they have appeared on the scene.

On the other hand, the experience of Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed, Azhar Ali and Mohammad Amir provide Pakistan team the much-needed calmness and stability. The unit seems to have the perfect mix of madness and composure at the moment.

If the troops of New Zealand and Pakistan are compared on paper, the Champions Trophy 2017 winners seem to have a far superior side than the Kiwis. But, it will not be that simple and the series is expected to be a cracking one as the Blackcaps are tough opponents on their home soil.

Pakistan have not been in their best of shapes for the past couple of years when they have faced New Zealand. The Kiwis have tamed Shaheens eleven of the last twelve times they have come face to face, the only defeat that the Blackcaps conceded was in a T20 at Auckland in 2016.

New Zealand have simply crushed the West Indies in their recent series, where they dominated the guests from the Caribbean in each Test, ODI and T20 that they played. They exhibited the threat that they pose to the visiting teams and Pakistan would be wary of it.

In the likes of Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Tim Southee and Trent Boult, New Zealand team looks like world-beaters.

The Basin Reserve has not hosted an ODI since January 2016, which was won by the hosts by 70 runs against the then touring Pakistan side. The pitch is likely to be pace-friendly with some juice in it. Bowlers are expected to enjoy the seam movement and pace in the wicket.

As Pakistan have a solid pace attack in presence of Mohammad Amir, highest ODI wicket-taker of 2017 Hasan Ali and the intelligent Rumman Raees, they will also enjoy bowling on it. Key for Pakistan bowlers will be to not to get carried away with the pace and bounce in the wicket. They would have to bowl full and in the right areas.

Despite Pakistan’s recent invincible run in the 50-over cricket, where they have been unbeaten in the last ten matches, New Zealand are still expected to have a slight edge over the visitors due to their home conditions.

Players to watch out

Shadab Khan can be a potential threat to New Zealand’s batting line. Apart from Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, Kiwi batsmen are not much comfortable against spinners. Moreover, Shadab has recently represented Brisbane Heat in the Big Bash League, where he bowled in Australian conditions and managed to take six wickets in three T20is. His experience of bowling in alien conditions can help him do well in New Zealand as well. He also took four wickets in Pakistan’s practice game against New Zealand XI.

From New Zealand’s side, Trent Boult can pose a potential threat to Pakistani batsmen under the expected overcast conditions. Pakistani batsmen are not comfortable when the ball is swinging and having bounce off the wicket. Boult has the capability of moving the ball both ways with great control that too at a decent pace. If Pakistan can cope up with him, they can probably score a respectable total.