While Pakistan have begun the new year by traipsing around New Zealand and having their ODI weaknesses exposed by the hosts from city to city, many of their fans have found themselves longing for the T20 leg of the tour to commence. The narrative of Pakistan’s unpredictability, and their supposed penchant for surprising in the shorter formats, have ignited hopes that any respectability that may be salvaged from this tour will come in the T20 format. The visitors’ relative competitiveness in the final two ODIs means they go into the T20 series with a bit of momentum, and their last victory against Kane Williamson’s men came in a T20I at Eden Park almost exactly two years ago. Pakistan are, after all, the second-ranked T20I side in the world.
Now, the reality check. Whatever the upbeat conversation around momentum shifts, New Zealand go into this series having whitewashed Pakistan in the ODIs. Since that T20I at Eden Park, they have won 12 matches on the bounce against Pakistan across formats. In addition, the shortest format is even more suited to exploiting the weaknesses in Pakistan’s game, and redlining New Zealand’s strengths. Pakistan’s inferiority has never been more pronounced than in the first ten overs of each innings. In T20 cricket, that’s half the match, and much tougher to mount a comeback from. Oh, and Pakistan are ranked number two in the format? Well, guess who’s number one? That’s right, it’s the side they’ll take on at the Westpac Stadium tomorrow.
New Zealand are changing up their squad somewhat for the T20s with some of their key players rested in certain games. Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson, for example, will not play the first game. However, it gives opportunities to those who have taken their chances on the domestic circuit, particularly in the Super Smash. Glenn Phillips, Seth Rance, Tom Bruce, Anaru Kitchen, Ish Sodhi and Ben Wheeler come in, all of them with T20 games under their belt in these conditions. Their confidence should be high, and so should New Zealand’s.
The main story from Pakistan’s squad is the return of Ahmed Shehzad, who has been in good T20 form of late. His last six T20I scores are 53, 39, 43, 89, 22 and 27, and he has also impressed in the Departmental One-Day Cup, averaging 67.16 with two hundreds and an 82 in seven games. Pakistan will hope his return breathes fresh life to a side that desperately needs it, particularly in the wake of the news that Shoaib Malik is out of the T20I series after a delayed concussion suffered during the fourth ODI.
New Zealand WWLWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Ben Wheeler may have only played four T20Is, but he has done no harm to his reputation in that short period. He was splendid in a three-match series against Bangladesh, taking four wickets while going at less than seven an over. He is also viewed as a power-hitter lower down the order; in just his third ODI, he smashed an unbeaten 39 off 28 balls against England in 2015. The left-armer’s ability to swing the ball will be highly coveted, particularly against a Pakistan side that has struggled against the new ball, particularly in the hands of Trent Boult. With New Zealand’s confidence sky high, this is as good a time as there will be for a young New Zealand quick to come into the side, and Wheeler will be well aware of that.
Babar Azam had a torrid ODI series, scoring just 31 runs at 6.20, and looking a shadow of the batsman who has won rave reviews and flattering – if premature – comparisons with Virat Kohli over the last 18 months. The T20 series gives him another chance to justify that praise. It is a good format switch for the 23-year old; he averages 46.80 in T20Is, having been dismissed only twice before reaching double figures in 14 innings. He was Pakistan’s highest scorer during the World XI tour of Lahore. However, he has never played a T20I in conditions and circumstances such as these, and will be eager to show he can lead Pakistan’s batting in the years to come, in all conditions.
New Zealand have left out Boult and Ferguson from the first ODI, and brought in a whole host of new faces. They will want to give plenty of them a run out during this series without losing any of their ruthlessness; they have, after all, yet to be beaten in this home season.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Colin Munro, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Glenn Phillips (wk), 6 Tom Bruce, 7 Colin de Grandhomme, 8 Mitchell Santner, 9 Ben Wheeler, 10 Tim Southee, 11 Ish Sodhi.
With Shoaib Malik out, Haris Sohail becomes even more important to Pakistan as an all-round option. Hasan Ali should recover from the groin strain that kept him out of the fifth ODI, while Mohammad Amir is also expected to return.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Fakhar Zaman, 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Babar Azam, 5 Haris Sohail, 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt & wk), 7 Shadab Khan, 8 Aamer Yamin, 9 Mohammad Nawaz, 10 Hasan Ali/Rumman Raees, 11 Mohammad Amir.
Pitch and conditions
It is expected to be a wet day in Wellington, but the rain should clear by the evening, in time for the T20I. The pitch is expected to be flat, with a high-scoring game on the cards.
Stats and trivia
The highest score at this ground came in a T20I between New Zealand and Pakistan, with the hosts notching up 196. Pakistan lost by 95 runs, their heaviest T20 defeat to date.
Martin Guptill is 74 short of becoming the only second batsman – the other, Brendon McCullum, is also a New Zealander – to score 2000 T20I runs.
“The batting has let us down in the ODI series but that’s in the past now. With the new format, where we are ranked second, we are going to turn up as a different side and prove our mettle,”
Umar Amin is optimistic heading into the T20Is
“It’s an unbelievable side that we’re playing up against. We’re number one in the world, but they’re number two, so if you’re thinking of other things you’re probably halfway gone already”
Ish Sodhi isn’t thinking ahead to the IPL auction at all