After New Zealand decisively and emphatically wrested control of their Twenty20 series with Pakistan, the two countries will go at it all over again for three one-day contests, beginning Monday in Wellington. And for Pakistan, the hope will be that their famed unpredictability can now strike in their favor to provide a positive end to a tour that has taken a sharp negative turn.
It all began so brightly as Pakistan took the opening match of the T20 series. But any positivity was quickly extinguished by two comprehensive defeats as New Zealand’s batsmen ran wild in record-setting fashion. After wins by 10 wickets and 95 runs, the Black Caps can look ahead with confidence to making another strong tilt at a world title when the World T20 gets underway in India in March. Pakistan, meanwhile, were left with much to ponder as their fall from grace in cricket’s shortest format continued.
New Zealand will be favorites to replicate their success in the ODI series, but Pakistan are nothing if not unpredictable. That much is evident in their recent results in the 50-over game. Even in last year’s World Cup, Pakistan were heavily beaten by India and the West Indies in their pool, before pulling out a surprise victory over South Africa. And that inconsistency has continued since, encompassing a demoralizing whitewash defeat in Bangladesh as well as a series victory in Sri Lanka.
Still, there is no question that despite the odd glimpse of encouragement, the general trend has not been positive. It is felling reinforced by the fact that Pakistan currently sit down in eighth in the ODI rankings. These upcoming matches will be important not just to improve on that position, but to ease some of the pressure on captain Azhar Ali.
The batsman was a surprise choice to take over following the last World Cup, and the struggles of his team have been mirrored in disappointing personal performances from the 30-year-old with the bat. There has also been unwanted off-the-field controversy, with Azhar resigning from the role last month after the inclusion in the squad of Mohammad Amir, fresh from serving five-year ban for spot-fixing. He was talked out of walking away, but the team chemistry will be heavily scrutinized when both Azhar and Amir take the field at the Basin Reserve in Wellington.
Azhar taking over from T20 skipper Shahid Afridi is just one of several changes to the squad between the two formats. Umar Gul, Umar Akmal, Iftikhar Ahmed, Amir Yamin and Saad Nasim have also returned home, while fast bowlers Mohammad Irfan and Rahat Ali join the squad.
The hosts will also feature a number of alterations. Batsman Ross Taylor has now been ruled out of the series after suffering a side strain during the third ODI on Friday. Already missing were pace bowler Tim Southee, who is still ruled out with a foot injury, as well as the man who skippered the team to a runner-up finish in last year’s World Cup, Brendon McCullum. The 34-year-old, who will retire from international cricket after next month’s Test series with Australia, is, though, expected to return for the third and final ODI against Pakistan.
In McCullum’s absence, Tom Latham will take his place in the party, while all-rounder Colin Munro has been rewarded for his 56 off 27 balls in the first T20I with a place in the one-day squad. Joining the team after Wellington will be wicketkeeper-batsman BJ Watling, who will return after nearly three years in the one-day international wilderness to replace regular keeper Luke Ronchi. Although Ronchi has struggled with the bat of late, selector Gavin Larsen insists the decision is simply about allowing him a rest in the midst of a hectic schedule.
"This isn't about form,” he said, according to the New Zealand Herald. “We've tried to rotate guys the whole season to keep them fresh over a long summer. This is a chance for him to have a week away and recharge the batteries.
"We still very much see him as our incumbent white ball keeper but, in saying that, we're always trying to develop depth across all formats. We know B-J's pedigree in test matches, but want to expose him to white ball cricket too.”
New Zealand squad: Kane Williamson (captain for first and second ODIs), Corey Anderson, Trent Boult, Grant Elliott, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Mitchell McClenaghan, Adam Milne, Colin Munro, Henry Nicholls, Mitchell Santner, Luke Ronchi (first ODI), BJ Watling (second and third ODI), Tom Latham (first two ODIs), Brendon McCullum (third ODI)
Pakistan squad: Azhar Ali (captain), Sarfraz Ahmed, Anwar Ali, Rahat Ali, Mohammad Amir, Babar Azam, Zafar Gohar, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Irfan, Shoaib Malik, Sohaib Maqsood, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Asad Shafiq, Ahmed Shehzad, Imad Wasim
Match time: Sunday, 5 p.m. EST
Live streaming: ESPN3