New Zealand brace for in-form Pakistan
March 7, 2011
March 8, Pallekele
Start time 14.30 local (09.00 GMT)
The pressure on the Test teams in Group A, unlike those scrumming in Group B, is of a milder nature. The teams in Group B are securing quarter-final qualification first and looking after their positions in the process. Unless Zimbabwe scores an unlikely upset, however, all four Test teams in Group A are ensured of a place in the knockouts. They are merely jostling for places at present. Of the strongest, New Zealand are the weakest. Their opponents on Tuesday, Pakistan, are the only team to win everything so far.
New Zealand have beaten Kenya and Zimbabwe - by a ten-wicket margin no less - and another victory against Canada will see them through. It's that brittle performance against Australia, however, that is an indication of the difficulty they will face against formidable sides. On paper, like previous New Zealand teams, this one also has the facets of a fighting outfit.
They have explosive hitters, theoretically bat extremely deep, and have an abundance of bowling options, fast and slow. Their fielding, as ever, is among the best. Their problems are a combination of form, poor technique, and impatience that led to several batsmen chasing and edging wide deliveries against Australia. It's the batting that needs fixing first, for without runs on the subcontinent there is little hope, and they'll have to do it against one of the tournament's most in-form bowling attacks.
The odds on Pakistan being the only team with a 100% win record halfway into the league stage would have been rather high at the start of the World Cup. They weren't being talked up in the lead-up to the tournament - the spot-fixing scandal and the uncertainty over the one-day captaincy overshadowing their performances on the field. But they put Kenya and Canada away and in between those victories toppled tournament favourites Sri Lanka.
Their middle order has largely been solid, and the one time it failed - against Canada - their bowlers raised their game to meet the challenge. They've met and beaten New Zealand in a one-day series immediately preceeding the World cup. Play to potential and Pakistan will expect to dispatch them again tomorrow. Slip, and it could be the opening New Zealand need to rediscover their efficient game.
(completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand WLWWL
Watch out for...
… Shahid Afridi the bowler, who has been a vastly more dangerous opponent than Afridi the batsman in recent years. He is the leading wicket-taker in the tournament, with 14 from three matches, including two five-wicket hauls. He tests batsmen with legbreaks, straighter ones and googlies. And then there's the fast ball that tears at batsmen at 130 kph, leaving them no time to react if they've come ill prepared. Afridi has at least four more matches to beat Glenn McGrath's tournament record of 26 wickets - in 2007 - and needs 13 more. He, as always, is Pakistan's talisman in the field, and if New Zealand give him a foothold, he will swarm all over them.
Tim Southee won't be ranked high on the list of the tournament's most dangerous bowlers but he's done tidily so far, picking up seven wickets at an average of 12.42 with an economy of 3.43. He swings the ball both in and out, bowls a probing wicket-to-wicket line, and has a useful yorker during the end overs. The challenge for him, however, is to strike and maintain a low economy on the subcontinent, where conditions are different from the ones he thrives in. Pallekele is an unknown quantity and there are indications that the pitch there could be faster than elsewhere.
New Zealand completed a clinical dismantling of Zimbabwe to put their campaign back on track and there seems to be no reason to change that winning combination. Brendon McCullum suffered from some soreness but is expected to play against Pakistan.
New Zealand (probable) 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Brendon McCullum (wk), 3 Jesse Ryder, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 James Franklin, 6 Scott Styris, 7 Nathan McCullum, 8 Daniel Vettori, 9 Kyle Mills, 10 Tim Southee, 11 Hamish Bennett.
Pakistan are likely to make one change and bring back Shoaib Akhtar, who missed the game against Canada, for Wahab Riaz. Abdur Rehman, the left-arm spinner, is recovering from his leg injury but is unlikely to be risked against New Zealand.
Pakistan (probable) 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Mohammad Hafeez, 3 Kamran Akmal (wk), 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq, 6 Umar Akmal, 7 Abdul Razzaq, 8 Shahid Afridi, 9 Shoaib Akhtar, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Umar Gul.
Pitch and conditions
Misbah-ul-Haq said the pitch was hard and had grass, indicating that there would be bounce. Daniel Vettori agreed, but no one can say for certain. Pallekele hasn't hosted an international game before. New Zealand, however, have played at the venue located in the hills near Kandy and bowled out a Sri Lanka A side for 91. The weather forecast is thankfully clear.
Stats and Trivia
- Pakistan lost their first World Cup match against New Zealand in 1983. They won the next six.
- Younis Khan averaged 21 and 12 in the previous two World Cups with a high score of 32. He's averaging 42.66 in this one with two half-centuries in three innings.
- New Zealand's openers, Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill, average 135 and 118 in this World Cup. They have been dismissed only once each in three innings.
"We've not been able to put consistent team performances together. That's pretty much where we've let ourselves down in the past. Hopefully there is some confidence from the Zimbabwe game. If we can bring the same performance in this game then it's going to be huge for us in the tournament."
Daniel Vettori hopes his team will build on the Zimbabwe win
"They just can't target me, because before me there are three or four batsmen who can get hundreds. They can't wait for me only. We are playing with six batsmen so every batsman is important."
Misbah-ul-Haq attempts to divert New Zealand's focus from him.