Auckland: Despite the two sides coming in the series with pole-apart results registered in the last series they played – Pakistan losing to England 0-3 while New Zealand thrashed Sri Lanka 2-0 – the three-match T20I series is expected to be laced with thrilling encounters.
Over the last one year, New Zealand have played exhilarating, awe-inspiring cricket – especially in their own backyard. In 2015, out of 27 matches played at home across all three formats – the breakup being: three Tests, 22 ODIs and two T20Is – the Black Caps were edged out in just three.
But Team Pakistan and its think tank is not overawed. “We are a side much different from Sri Lanka. It would not be that easy to hit our pace attack out of the park at will”, says Waqar Younis.
Shahid Afridi echoes similar thoughts, without being boastful about it.
Pakistan takes on the hosts in the first of the three T20Is at Eden Park, the venue where it beat South Africa in an enthralling ICC World Cup 2015 encounter, defending 232 despite A.B. de Villiers’ blistering 58-ball 77 runs and Hashim Amla’s early blitz.
With Mohammad Amir back in reckoning after five years in the wilderness, Umar Gul making a comeback on the back of a splendid domestic season and spinning all-rounder Imad Wasim recovering from the finger injury, Pakistan have a far more balanced and well-rounded squad than was available to it against England. What is more, it has a pretty potent pace attack to thwart New Zealand’s audacious strikers up-front.
The Black Caps batting may have enjoyed spectacular success in the recent series against Sri Lanka but taking on Pakistan’s pace and spin combination would be an altogether different ball game.
New Zealand’s true pitches will also suit Pakistan’s dashing batsmen, in particular Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal. The venue of the second T20I, Seddon Park in Hamilton, must evoke in Ahmed happy memories for it was here that he notched his first international century in 2011.
In terms of finding the right combinations and building a winning outfit for the forthcoming ICC World Twenty20 ’16 in India, the series is of significant import for Pakistan.
This also provides the green shirts with an opportunity to get right to the top of the ICC T20 Rankings – a steep task though, for they would have to prevail in all three games to get to that summit.
Since the launch of the ICC Rankings, Pakistan have not topped the world in any format (though it is No 2 in Test rankings at this point in time, and prior to the lost rubber against England were in a similar spot in the shortest format of the game as well) but by whitewashing the Black Caps, the green shirts can pull off this for the first time.