x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

A chance to move on for Pakistan and New Zealand

Both Pakistan and New Zealand are unpredictable teams that can confound and astonish in equal measure, sometimes over the course of the same game, and leave the fans frustrated.

Pakistani cricket players take part in a practice session in Lahore, Pakistan, on Wednesday.
Pakistani cricket players take part in a practice session in Lahore, Pakistan, on Wednesday.

Pakistan arrived in New Zealand yesterday for a seven-week tour. It is hard not to get excited about the way Pakistan and New Zealand play cricket, though perhaps not for reasons that are particularly gratifying to their respective supporters.

Both are unpredictable teams that can confound and astonish in equal measure, sometimes over the course of the same game. This means that the hopes of fans and the potential of the players are often left unfulfilled, leading to an excess of frustration, disparagement and criticism.

No two teams have been plagued by as much recent criticism as New Zealand and Pakistan.

While the Black Caps hurtle towards a record number of consecutive defeats with almost resigned inevitability, the spectre of match-fixing continues to haunt Pakistan amid a flurry of speculation over squad omissions and the release of further incriminating evidence.

It will be under these inauspicious circumstances that the teams square off in New Zealand for three Twenty20 matches, two Tests and six one-day internationals before the February 19 start of the Cricket World Cup in the sub-continent.

Conditions in New Zealand will differ greatly from the arid surfaces of Pakistan's recent games in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and will provide a real test of temperament and technique for their inexperienced top-order batsmen.

Pitches are green and seaming and have the potential to turn even mediocre bowlers into fearsome threats.

So expect the smash and bang of recent Pakistan batting heroics to play a lesser role, and a lot more responsibility to rest of the shoulders of grafters such as Azhar Ali, Younus Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq.

The resolve and determination that was on display in their last two Test matches against South Africa in the UAE will be crucial if they are going to post competitive totals, especially on small grounds.

There will be added pressure on Umar Akmal, who has been recalled to the side after being dropped against South Africa. He must show the flair and talent that were on display during his last tour to New Zealand, where his magnificent century on his Test debut inspired an awe-struck Martin Crowe, the former New Zealand batsman, to deem him one of the game's future greats.

To their credit, Pakistan's bowlers have kept a relatively steady ship in the absence of Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif. Local conditions will suit the guile and subtleties of Umar Gul, and Tanvir Ahmed will enjoy the prospects of kick-starting his international career on such responsive surfaces.

Likewise, Shoaib Akhtar will have many fond memories of playing in New Zealand. Akhtar's raw pace has often decimated Kiwi top orders and, despite his age and injury problems, the prospect of the "Rawalpindi Express" continuing his latter day career resurgence seems likely.

While Pakistan manage to find a resolute and stoic base to weather recent controversies with some older and more experienced players, the same cannot be said for the New Zealand side.

The Black Caps are in a tailspin after heavy defeats to Bangladesh and India. Local media speculation surrounding Daniel Vettori's dual role as selector and captain will only escalate over the next few weeks and many commentators and former players are now calling for radical change, on and off the field.

But Pakistan must be careful not to underestimate the Black Caps. New Zealand seem to have a knack of producing results on home turf. Public expectations will be high and crowds intensely partisan. Cricket remains a summer institution in New Zealand, and any series against a subcontinent powerhouse carries a great sense of anticipation and excitement.

There is a small but passionate expatriate Pakistan community, especially in the major cities. They will be out in force during the coming weeks, adding spice to a rivalry that, given each team's propensity for confounding expectations, could well shape up to be an evenly fought contest.