Cricket

Match Preview – Pakistan vs New Zealand, New Zealand in Pakistan 2022/23, 1st Test


Big picture

New Zealand are ok. Yeah, they’re going through “a transition”. Yeah, they’ve got a new Test captain. Yeah, they have lost six of their nine Tests in this World Test Championship cycle. Yeah, they were the first guinea pigs in the Bazball experiment. Yeah, they haven’t played a single Test since then.

But they are New Zealand. This just doesn’t sound that drastic, right? It never does. They’ll plan, they’ll nurture, they’ll be efficient and optimal with their resources, play their cards right, quietly bide their time and be good again, and we’ll be like, yeah, New Zealand are ok. It’s just a matter of time.

On the other hand, Pakistan have gone old-school meltdown and some of us are shouting, It’s About Damn Time. There they were until last week, floating along on a little fluffy cloud of bland, but at least in control of it. Ramiz Raja was in charge, Babar Azam was in charge, the PCB’s social media, where everything – even a historic 3-0 whitewash – was always so positive and upbeat, was in charge.

Five days later Shahid Afridi is the chief selector. SHAHID AFRIDI IS THE CHIEF SELECTOR! That’s never not going to take getting used to. A coup’s been staged against Ramiz, and the new guys – who are really the old guys – cut some cake as the first order of business. Babar’s team-mates suddenly are having to tweet their support to him. Nobody’s doing the same for Saqlain Mushtaq, so he is going to go soon. The chief selector is already gone. People are talking about Mohammad Rizwan’s place in the Test side.

The fast-bowling cupboard is Shaheen Shah Afridi. That’s it. The domestic system is about to be completely ripped apart. Again. Also, Shahid Afridi is the chief selector and he’s saying straight-laced things like: “We had a good discussion on the squad and agreed we needed to strengthen our bowling department to give ourselves the best chance of taking 20 wickets in a match.”

What all of it means for the immediate future of the two Tests these two now play, your guess is as good as anyone’s. Pakistan are hurting, heaving with change. New Zealand are being New Zealand and for added inscrutability haven’t played a Test in yonks. Both are coming off four consecutive losses. At a pinch, let’s say it shouldn’t be boring.

Form guide

Pakistan LLLLW (last five Tests, most recent first)
New Zealand LLLLW

In the spotlight

Mohammad Rizwan is not having a great year. Suddenly, one of the first names on Pakistan’s team sheet is no longer necessarily that, not with a new selection committee in place. His T20I partnership with Babar has come under increasing scrutiny. In Tests, there are calls for the return of Sarfaraz Ahmed to replace him. It’s a little unfair. His glovework may be a little theatrical, but he’s still safer than any of his modern predecessors. He is averaging 30 this year with bat, which isn’t great but isn’t diabolical either. It’s not a string of low scores either, but a series of unconverted starts. Safe to say though that he – and Pakistan’s batting – could really do with him converting one of them.

Suddenly, everyone’s a fast-bowling captain. This summer in England Tim Southee looked cooked, though, in hindsight, that was probably more England’s batting than his bowling. Now, six months later he is New Zealand’s new Test captain, ready to bowl in a continent where he has an exemplary record. Only last year he was putting on a masterclass in Kanpur but this time, he’ll be without his long-time partner-in-swing, Trent Boult. How he goes with ball in hand, and command on the field, will determine how this series goes for the tourists.

Team news

Pakistan had a squad. Then the PCB was overhauled. And three new players were added to the party. Now, as far as Babar is concerned, “We will have a discussion with the selectors; then we will decide the final XI”.

Pakistan (probable): 1 Imam-ul-Haq, 2 Abdullah Shafique, 3 Shan Masood, 4 Babar Azam (capt), 5 Saud Shakeel, 6 Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), 7 Agha Salman, 8 Sajid Khan, 9 Abrar Ahmed, 10 Mir Hamza, 11 Naseem Shah

New Zealand are likely to bolster their spin attack with Ajaz Patel coming in. Trent Boult, of course, is not available.

New Zealand (probable): 1 Tom Latham, 2 Will Young, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Devon Conway, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 Daryl Mitchell, 7 Tom Blundell (wk), 8 Michael Bracewell, 9 Tim Southee (capt), 10 Neil Wagner, 11 Ajaz Patel

Pitch and conditions

The Karachi pitch for the recent Test against England was slow and low, but not necessarily uneven in contest for it. It’s most likely, given the swift turnaround time, to behave similarly. But who knows, with a new administration in town, it may liven up a little. Babar expects it to “change each day, day by day things get different”.

Stats and trivia

  • Pakistan used to love playing New Zealand but since 2011 have only won 3 of their 12 Tests against them and lost seven.
  • 60.40 > 54.77: Babar’s average against Kane Williamson’s since October 2019 (just before Babar’s breakthrough Test series against Australia). A little more surprisingly, he has played ten Tests more than his counterpart in the same period.
  • 71.22 – Daryl Mitchell’s average this year is the third-highest of any batter with at least five Tests.

Quotes

“Yes, we could not play the last series the way we wanted to, because we committed mistakes. Now we need to overcome that and try to play good cricket.”
Babar Azam looks back at the 3-0 England defeat

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo



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