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Pakistan, NZ look to turn around ODI fortunes

WELLINGTON – Since the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, Pakistan have played 18 ODIs in which it has won eight and lost nine (one no-result). In contrast, New Zealand have played 16 ODIs in the same period and has won eight and lost seven (one no-result).
In this background, there is very little to choose between the two sides, which are separated by 24 points on the ICC ODI Team Championship table but New Zealand sit on comfortable fourth place as compared to Pakistan, who are on eighth.
Injuries have hampered New Zealand’s seam attack over the recent limited-overs series. Key batsmen have been sidelined by niggles. They will be without their three most experienced ODI cricketers on Monday, but still, so good have they been at home, New Zealand still appear the more dynamic team. Of the nine limited-overs games they have completed in their summer, they have won seven.
Key to New Zealand’s depth has been their management’s skill in spotting and honing talent. Martin Guptill was persevered with through a lean stretch at the end of 2014. He would go on to be 2015’s leading ODI runscorer. Colin Munro had had a lukewarm run in the middle order, before going thermonuclear at no.3, in Auckland. Mitchell Santner has a T-Rex front arm in his delivery stride, but he moves like a raptor in the field, and has contributed smartly in the major disciplines. They are about to switch formats, but the transitions have generally been seamless for New Zealand. As their coach says, “form in any format is great”.
Pakistan will feel a little battered after two heavy T20 defeats, but who is to say when metal will strike flint and their fire starts? A change of captain, and the arrival of new personnel lends a little freshness to their tour. Their left-arm pace legion has been bolstered by the arrival of Mohammad Irfan and Rahat Ali, though the spin options do appear barer without Shahid Afridi.
Their batting has been wobbly as ever in the past year, on occasion seeming outdated in their inability to attack at vital stages of the innings. There were series victories against Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, but also bruising defeats against Bangladesh and England. On a hard Basin Reserve deck tinged slightly green on the eve of the game, Azhar Ali will need the more experienced hands in his top order – the likes of Shoaib Malik and Mohammed Hafeez – to show the younger lot how to succeed in such conditions.
New Zealand’s selectors have said they are simply resting Luke Ronchi ahead of the Australia series, and are adamant that he remains the team’s no. 1 white-ball keeper. But his lack of runs since June will be among New Zealand’s mild concerns. Ronchi plays the first match of this series, then gives the gloves to BJ Watling for the second and third ODIs. If he gets the chance to bat, Ronchi will want to shore up his place in the XI with the kind of impactful innings he had played in the previous southern summer.
A Test-match strike rate of almost 75 suggests Sarfraz Ahmed would take nicely to ODIs as well, but so far, he has been only decent, where he is exceptional in the longest format. There is some evidence that Sarfraz needs a little time at the crease before he unfurls his scything cuts and whiplash sweeps, as he averages over 40 batting in the top three. He has been sent back down the order more recently though, and if Pakistan lose quick wickets on a lively pitch, it may be down to Sarfraz to transform the outlook of his team’s innings, as he often has in Tests.
Ross Taylor, Tim Southee and Brendon McCullum are all unavailable with injury, giving the likes of Tom Latham, Colin Munro and Henry Nicholls the opportunity to show their ODI wares. Latham will likely open, but Munro and Nicholls may be competing for one middle-order place.
It is conceivable that Pakistan’s frontline attack will be composed entirely of left-armers – with Imad Wasim likeliest to play out of the spinners. Babar Azam, Sohaib Maqsood and Mohammad Rizwan are probably competing for two middle-order spots.
This match will be the first ODI at the Basin Reserve since 2005, so average scores at the venue can only say so much. Grant Elliott felt the surface was hard, and should have a bit of pace and bounce. Overhead conditions may be conducive to swing bowling, with cloud forecast for parts of the day – though they are not expected to bring rain.
PAKISTAN: Azhar Ali (capt.), Ahmed Shehzad, M Hafeez, Babar Azam, Sohaib Maqsood, Shoaib Malik, M Rizwan, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Imad Wasim, Wahab Riaz, M Aamir, M Irfan, Rahat Ali.
NEW ZEALAND: Tom Latham, Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson (capt.), Colin Munro, Grant Elliott, Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi (wk), Mitchell Santner, Adam Milne, Matt Henry, Trent Boult.

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