Form book no guide for New Zealand, Pakistan in crunch contest

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ICC CRICKET WORLD CUP 2019

Can Pakistan end New Zealand's unbeaten run?

Can Pakistan end New Zealand’s unbeaten run? © Getty

New Zealand have won all their completed games in this World Cup, but the ‘L’ has made flirtatious advances over the last two games. Carlos Brathwaite’s bludgeoning and West Indies’ near miracle in Manchester opened even the spotless Black Caps to some mildly discomforting questions. What if Kane Williamson ever succumbs to the law of averages? What happens if Lockie Ferguson doesn’t strike in the middle overs? And why so many dropped catches?

‘Why so many dropped catches?’ was the also the first of several darts fired at Mickey Arthur after Pakistan swept aside South Africa. It was no wonder, therefore, to see the team turn to all manner of equipment, from an inclined rubber pad to a concave surf board at their “top-up indoor nets session” in search of incremental gains.

The fielding blemishes notwithstanding, the levity with which Pakistan approached their first must-win game at Lord’s lends further credence to the assertion that most of Pakistan’s problems in cricket is mental. Arthur is adamant that these self-inflicted pressure scenarios are not by design or choice. But who can really be sure anymore? Nothing wills Pakistan on more than the sensation of the back touching the cold proverbial wall.

It would appear that New Zealand don’t have too many extreme riders on this game, beyond passage into yet another World Cup semifinal. They made the most of the kind landing that the ICC scheduling handed them, but are wary of the flipside of an easier start. Stutters here on, with games against potential fellow semifinalists Australia and England to follow, will dent psyche at the worst possible time. It’s a fact that wasn’t lost on Pakistan bowling coach Azhar Mahmood either, who laced cold facts inside his warm sense of humour to remind his as-yet unbeaten opposition of their eternal bridesmaid status.

“If you look at New Zealand. They have a history of starting World Cups with series of victories and then when they get to crunch situations, in quarters or semis, they don’t do well. Any team has to have a bad day. Hopefully they have one tomorrow,” he said.

The spotlight, though, will remain on Sarfaraz and his boys. A blink here, a yawn there will almost certainly send them on their way back to Lahore and Karachi, where interrogations quickly turn into inquisitions. The longer they stay here, the longer they can keep invoking the spirit of ’92. New Zealand were the form team 27 years ago as well and Pakistan beat them twice to win. Imagine what the first win could mean for them tomorrow.

When: New Zealand vs Pakistan, June 26, 10:30 AM Local

Where: Edgbaston, Birmingham

What to expect: Showers lashed Birmingham on the eve of the match but the forecast for game day is much better. The Edgbaston pitch was two-paced for the New Zealand-South Africa game and the trapped moisture could render similar qualities to the surface for tomorrow. That will be welcome news for Pakistan, who can also throw on as many as four spinners besides their battery of left-arm quicks.

Team News:

Pakistan

Pakistan are unlikely to change their winning XI from Lord’s.

Probable XI: Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Haris Sohail, Sarfaraz Ahmed (c&wk), Imad Wasim, Wahab Riaz, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Shaheen Afridi

New Zealand

New Zealand have chinks to iron out, starting right at the top of the order. Guptill and Munro will be persisted in an unchanged XI but they’ll want the pair to bat long enough so as to ensure Williamson and Taylor aren’t always putting out fires when they are batting.

Probable XI: Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Tom Latham (wk), James Neesham, Colin de Grandhomme, Mitchell Santner, Trent Boult, Matt Henry, Lockie Ferguson

Did you know?

– Pakistan have dropped 14 catches so far – the most by any team in the World Cup so far. New Zealand are fourth in this list – behind England & South Africa – with 9 drops

– Kane Williamson’s last 11 ODI innings in England now read: 93, 118, 90, 50, 100, 87, 57, 40, 79*, 106* & 148

– Wahab Riaz averages an excellent 25.28 with the ball from 17 World Cup games. Outside the World Cup, this average balloons to 38.16.

What they said:

“We need to be consistent with our selections now, we have to back our players even if there are some iffy performances. So we won’t just drop Shaheen [Afridi] to play Hasnain. We’ll see if we need to play four seamers on the morning of the match but not otherwise” – Azhar Mahmood throws his weight behind young Shaheen Afridi, the least impressive of the three pacers against South Africa.

“Considering we haven’t done it yet, so that [winning the World Cup] would be nice. We’re in a pretty good situation but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. For us, it’s about getting into the next game, which is Pakistan, do our scouting and accordingly be at our best come tomorrow” – Mitchell Santner confirms that New Zealand haven’t already started dreaming about a World Cup win.

© Cricbuzz

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