Fresh off the series win over Australia, Pakistan enter another T20 series in the UAE
Mark Chapman returns to UAE in new colours as Sarfraz Ahmed focuses on 'momentum': Pakistan v New Zealand talking points
An old adversary returning to the UAE in new gear. A duel between two of the top three bowlers in Twenty20 cricket. One of the world’s leading short-form batsmen who warmed up for the series by winning the Afghanistan Premier League. And the world’s new No 1 batsman.
The series between Pakistan and New Zealand might feel a little like it is after the main event, following on so soon after the issues-rich Australia tour. But there is plenty to digest ahead of Wednesday’s opening exchanges.
Chapman returns in new colours
Three years ago, Mark Chapman became the 10th player to score a one-day international century on debut.
He was playing for Hong Kong against the UAE in the World Cricket League in Dubai and, aged 21, he looked a class apart.
Now he is back in the Emirates, and both the opposition and the shirt he will be wearing have changed.
The left-handed batsman was born and brought up in Hong Kong, where his Chinese mother worked in the financial sector while his New Zealander father served as crown prosecutor for the government.
Having represented Hong Kong in international cricket since his mid-teens, he officially switched allegiance to New Zealand earlier this year.
He went to boarding school in Auckland from 13. Back in 2015, he missed the four-day match against UAE that preceded that ODI debut century as he was sitting an engineering exam in New Zealand.
Munro well acclimatised
Chapman looked in fine working order in New Zealand’s tune up against the UAE last week.
He hit 36 from 25 balls in the practice match against a side he was well-acquainted with from his time with Hong Kong, as the Black Caps beat UAE by 37 runs in Abu Dhabi.
Some of the New Zealand players have enjoyed a longer stint of acclimatisation than others ahead of the series against Pakistan.
Colin Munro was a title-winner with Balkh Legends in the Afghanistan Premier League, which took place in Sharjah in October, having been one of the league’s headline signings.
“It’s like rejoining the family after being on a sabbatical, a year overseas,” Munro said after meeting up with the New Zealand squad in Abu Dhabi.
“It's just coming back and being a part of a family, and everyone is in good spirits for the first game.”
Sarfraz focused on momentum
Sarfraz Ahmed, Pakistan’s captain, said his side were already focused on the New Zealand series even before their engagement with Australia was over. It helped they had wrapped that up with a match still to play.
“Before the match we were talking about momentum,” Sarfraz said late on Sunday night, after his side set the seal on a 3-0 series win.
“This match was very important for the next series [against New Zealand] as well. We said to the players it was very important we had the momentum with us.
“My players are very good and know how to handle situations. We have a good bowling line up and good batting line up.
“Babar Azam has performed really well for the past two of years. Mohammed Hafeez, Fakhar Zaman, Shoaib Malik, the way they are all performing and contributing, it makes my job very easy as a captain.”
Shadab v Sodhi?
Pakistan dominated an Australia side who are third in the ICC’s T20 standings. So what chance for New Zealand, who are ranked fifth and are without their most prolific batsman, Martin Guptill?
The hosts might be the format’s form team, but New Zealand are not without matchwinners.
Munro has been a fixture in the world’s Top 5 T20 batsmen for some while, while Ish Sodhi is the No 3-ranked bowler.
Oddly, all of the top five bowlers in those standings are leg-spinners, a number that extends to seven of the top eight.
Sodhi is a place below Shadab Khan, whose spin-bowling undermined Australia’s run chase in Dubai on Sunday as Pakistan sealed that clean sweep.
The New Zealand bowler is clearly in decent fettle, too. He took 2-11 in three overs in the warm up match against UAE.
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Babar on top of the world
Babar Azam moved to the top of the world rankings for T20 cricket after the three-match series against Australia in which he top scored in every game.
His consistency in the short formats is remarkable, especially given his youth and relative inexperience. He has seven half centuries in the 23 T20Is he has played to date.
"I'm not satisfied if I've performed in one match,” the on-song Pakistan opener said after receiving the player of the series award against Australia.
“My role is to anchor the innings and to bat through. I try to do that.”