Across serene, idyllic cricket grounds in New Zealand, Pakistan are being jolted awake. The magic of the second half of last year is wearing off, with Sarfraz Ahmed’s men slowly slipping back into their old limited-overs template. Against a modern, progressive limited-overs unit, the differences are stark. Pakistan’s top-order is brittle, and their bowlers have struggled to stem the flow of boundaries, particularly in the early overs, leaving the team to begin each innings on the backfoot. That isn’t a recipe for success, and Wellington and Nelson bear that out.
Pakistan’s top-order, in particular, has been well below par. Their dismissals have exposed clear lapses in concentration, and distinctly average shot selection. They also appear to have gone away from attacking in the first Powerplay, a strategy that served them well in the Champions Trophy. That should be helped by the likely return of Fakhar Zaman, who batting coach Grant Flower said he expected to start in Dunedin.
New Zealand can’t seem to put a foot wrong this home season. Their domination against West Indies was partly down to the weakness of the visiting side, but as they continue to pile on the wins, Kane Williamson’s side are showing who they are: one of the best in the world. Munro is beginning to find his feet in ODIs. Guptill stormed back to form in Nelson. And the sustained excellence of Trent Boult and Tim Southee with the new ball, and the exciting raw pace of Lockie Ferguson, leave the home team with much to feel buoyant about.
In Dunedin, they have the opportunity to seal yet another home series win at the earliest. But they will still be wary of a Pakistan side that has historically put up its best performances when expectations are at their lowest.
New Zealand WWWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first) Pakistan LLWWW
In the spotlight
Mitchell Santner has been one of New Zealand’s most consistent performers over the past two years, particularly with the white ball. He was outsanding in Nelson, where the slower surface allowed him to bowl with more flight. Santner’s success has extended to pitches not necessarily suited to his skillset. Given his ability with the bat too lower down, Santner has effectively taken over Daniel Vettori’s role in the side. But with explosive batsmen and world-class fast bowlers all around him, he hasn’t quite been in the limelight. Dunedin offers one of the slowest and lowest surfaces in New Zealand, and the circumstances are ripe for Santner to thrive again.
Since taking over as captain of all formats, Sarfraz Ahmed has led Pakistan to the Champions Trophy title and the subsequent limited-overs whitewash of Sri Lanka. But he has had a forgettable tour so far, scoring 8 and 3, and dropping Man of the Match Kane Williamson early in the first game. There’s criticism that Sarfraz bats too low; since Pakistan began their winning streak in the Champions Trophy, he has batted in only five of eleven ODIs, scoring an unbeaten 61 in one, and not managing double figures in any of the others. His place in the side isn’t nearly under threat yet, but he will know better than anyone else how volatile Pakistan cricket is, and the wonders a big score could do.
Colin de Grandhomme’s return after personal bereavement gives New Zealand an additional allround option, though it is not known whether he would be physically or mentally fit to play. With New Zealand on such a run of form, there would be no need to rush him, and an unchanged XI for the third straight game would be no surprise.
New Zealand (probable): Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Kane Williamson (capt), Ross Taylor, Tom Latham (wk), Henry Nicholls, Mitchell Santner, Todd Astle, Tim Southee, Lockie Ferguson, Trent Boult
Pakistan should have Fakhar Zaman back, and with Imam-ul-Haq unable to take his opportunity in Nelson, Zaman would likely reclaim his place at the top of the order. Haris Sohail may begin to push for a place in the middle order, with Shoaib Malik perhaps most vulnerable to being dropped.
Pakistan (probable): Azhar Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed (capt, wk), Faheem Ashraf, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Rumman Raees
Pitch and conditions
The University Oval has one of the slower pitches in New Zealand, so the spinners may look to make an impression. Overcast conditions could see swing play a big role, although rain is unlikely.
Stats and trivia
Victory for New Zealand would stretch their streak to ten matches across formats, matching their longest winning sequence. They have done it twice, both since 2015.
New Zealand have won the last eight one-day meetings between these two sides, the best run by either side.