Let’s begin with the facts: New Zealand have outplayed Pakistan along the length and breadth of the country. They have batted, bowled and fielded better, with the results bearing that out. Six of the seven games played have seen New Zealand emerge comfortably on top, while Pakistan trumped them on an off day in Auckland in a result that, in the context of this tour, could only be called an upset.
But move on to the PR spin Pakistan will want to put on this tour, and you could paint a very different picture. Pakistan are one win away from returning to New Zealand having won one of the two series, and thus being able to claim parity. One game away from beating the world’s best T20 side in their own backyard, and wrenching that accolade from them and claiming it for themselves. They could claim to have taken on arguably the world’s most modern side in their approach to limited-overs cricket, and a victory for Pakistan would prove, in their eyes, that Sarfraz Ahmed’s men aren’t so far off from matching those heights either. They are three hours, and 40 overs, away from this.
All of that rests on this game. Defeat for New Zealand will put a dampener on what has been a magnificent home season for them, one that’s well on its way to being considered one of their best ever. It will draw away momentum before the all-important visit of England, who have spent the last fortnight burnishing their limited-overs credentials with an impressive series win in Australia. It will undo a lot of their good work against a side that, for six games, frankly didn’t offer New Zealand the kind of competitive cricket they would have liked before England’s visit. Relinquishing their top spot in T20I cricket to that sort of team may almost be considered ignominious.
For all those reasons, a lot more rests on this third T20I at Mount Maunganui than most bilateral T20Is have to shoulder. Victory for New Zealand, and the narrative of the tour is preserved. Defeat, and Pakistan begin to write a script of their own.
(last five completed matches, most recent first) New Zealand LWWWL
In the spotlight
Kane Williamson was sold at the IPL auction for a cool $635,000, but his T20 numbers of late haven’t quite dignified a man of his stature. He has managed just 97 runs in his last seven innings, never once crossing 30, and only once exceeding a strike rate of 135. He’s not a typical T20 player, but his reputation has been enhanced by his ability to adapt to both conditions and format, and the Sunrisers Hyderabad, who snapped him up, clearly still have faith in the New Zealand captain. His dismissal for a golden duck in the second T20I put Pakistan in firm control of the match, when a big innings from him was desperately needed. He was in form during the ODI series but if he wants to display his skills in the shortest format in a high-pressure encounter, Mount Maunganui has set the stage for him.
Ish Sodhi may be ranked the world’s best T20I bowler – although that didn’t help him on the opening day of the IPL auction – but it feels inevitable that Shadab Khan will be ranked there someday. He’s already mixing it with the best and holding his own, and the final T20I gives him an excellent platform to showcase that again. He has blown a little hot and cold on this tour, following up a superb performance with an indifferent one. Consistency is arguably a legspinner’s biggest challenge, but Shadab has the confidence and ability to rise to it. Pakistan will consider tomorrow’s decider a fantastic place to start building towards it.
Ross Taylor and Tom Blundell – who scored a hundred on Test debut against the West Indies – have been called up for the final game. Colin Munro misses out with a slight hamstring strain, while Glenn Phillips has been released back to his domestic side, Auckland, where Mike Hesson wanted the wicketkeeper to “evolve” his game. Tim Southee, who was rested for the second game, returns.
New Zealand (possible): 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Tom Bruce, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Colin de Grandhomme, 6 Tom Blundell (wk), 7 Mitchell Santner, 8 Ben Wheeler/Anaru Kitchen, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Ish Sodhi
Pakistan are likely to go with the same eleven that produced their best performance of the tour at Eden Park. That may mean Sarfraz persists with batting at No. 4, given the success of the strategy in Auckland.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Fakhar Zaman, 3 Babar Azam, 4 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt, wk), 5 Faheem Ashraf, 6 Haris Sohail, 7 Umar Amin, 8 Shadab Khan, 9 Hasan Ali, 10 Rumman Raees, 11 Mohammad Amir
Pitch and conditions
Rain is not expected to be a factor in Mount Maunganui, a surface which takes a bit more spin than the average New Zealand ground. That may prompt both sides to go with two spinners, though a batting friendly deck is expected.
Stats and trivia
In four T20I series between these two sides, New Zealand have won two, and Pakistan one, with one drawn. If Pakistan win, it will be their first T20I series win in New Zealand
New Zealand have never lost a T20I at Mount Maunganui. In five previous matches, they have won four, with the game against West Indies earlier this season washed out
“The boys have played well there and the crowd’s always good as well. Hopefully they turn out and we can put on a good performance for them”