It was not that long ago that New Zealand were seen as dark horses at nearly every world tournament. In this one though, they’ve been a bit like chameleons, changing their colours to suit their surroundings and hoodwink those higher on the food chain. A victory against Pakistan in Mohali will take them to a second semi-final at a global event in as many years.
Shahid Afridi and his men, no matter how much their erratic form hints otherwise, are no pushovers. News from the camp is that the batting still needs patching up, but the area more in need of improvement is their utilisation of resources. During their loss against India, their best bowler Mohammad Amir did not complete his overs. Pakistan’s reading of the Kolkata pitch too was also incorrect, although they couldn’t help the rain that arrived later, and lent it just enough moisture for the ball to grip and turn.
It is in reading the conditions offered to them that New Zealand have been impeccable. They hadn’t played in the subcontinent since the previous World T20, but they assessed Nagpur would be spin-friendly and exploited better than the hosts did. Rains in Dharamsala meant they barely had any face time with the surface before a match against Australia, yet their only change Mitchell McClenaghan produced the match-turning performance.
Coach Mike Hesson and captain Kane Williamson have been unafraid to make left-field choices and their frontline players have been quite accommodating. Tim Southee and Trent Boult, two of the premier fast bowlers in the world, have not yet played a single game in the World T20, although Mohali’s reputation of being a slightly more seamer-friendly venue might change that. Pakistan and their phalanx of left-armer quicks wouldn’t mind that eventuality either.
New Zealand: WWWWL (last five completed matches)
In the spotlight
Ross Taylor was beloved in these parts. Before Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers, he was the darling of Bangalore and a lot of that was down to how destructive he can be in the latter overs. That leg-side swipe over square leg and midwicket had been his go to shot in Twenty20 cricket, but now he has an all-round game to rely on. Taylor is coming back from injury and hasn’t hit his best form yet, but he remains a key member of this New Zealand batting line-up.
Sharjeel Khan is a powerful man. Pakistan have kept him at the top of their order in the hope that he fires like he did in the PSL. But beating the ball into submission has not been the most productive tactic at this year’s World T20. In seven innings since the Asia Cup, Sharjeel has gone past thirty only. He hasn’t faced 30 balls even once. Perhaps giving himself a little more time at the crease might help sort that out.
New Zealand kept their cards to their chest about their team combinations. “We will look up that pitch tomorrow, the pitch will covered overnight and will dry up a bit,” Hesson said. “We will pick a side that suits the conditions and the opposition, but won’t be thinking too far ahead.”
New Zealand (probable) 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Kane Williamson (capt), 3 Colin Munro, 4 Corey Anderson, 5 Ross Taylor, 6 Grant Elliot, 7 Luke Ronchi (wk), 8 Mitchell Santner, 9 Mitchell McClenaghan/ Trent Boult, 10 Ish Sodhi, 11 Adam Milne/Tim Southee
Pakistan might be forced to make one change at least. Wahab Riaz was hit in the neck region by a throw at practice and had to visit the hospital. Perhaps that may make room for left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz or Imad Wasim.
Pakistan (probable) 1 Sharjeel Khan, 2 Ahmed Shehzad, 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Umar Akmal, 5 Shoaib Malik, 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Imad Wasim/Mohammad Nawaz, 9 Mohammad Irfan, 10 Mohammad Sami, 11 Mohammad Amir
Pitch and conditions
The World T20 pitches have kept everyone on sharp notice. The one in Mohali was barely distinguishable from the outfield on match eve, although that may just be to keep the pitch from crumbling as a result of the prevalent hot and dry weather. So very little fear of rain, and very little fear of dew as well. “Mohali is probably more like New Zealand conditions than perhaps Nagpur and Dharamsala,” Hesson said.
Stats and trivia
- Mitchell Santner’s economy rate of 5.95 is the second best by a New Zealander in T20Is under condition of at least 20 overs bowled. The man at the top is the one he is trying to emulate, Daniel Vettori, 5.7 after 131.1 overs. Ish Sodhi is third with 6.32 and Nathan McCullum is fifth with 6.86.
- Pakistan average 25.40 for their opening partneship in all T20Is, among Full Members only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe have fared worse. New Zealand’s 36.31 is the highest.
“They are unpredictable, but very skilful. We are fortunate to have played them recently. Whether that makes them less predictable or just gives us more information. As a batting unit, they are relatively predictable in the way they play and that gives us more opportunity with the ball.”
New Zealand coach Mike Hesson
“In cricket, generally the team that makes fewer mistakes wins. India made fewer mistakes than us. We have to cut down on our mistakes.”
Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi