New Zealand and Pakistan will go head to head in Wellington on Friday with their Twenty20 series on the line as well as a last chance to garner a morale boost ahead of the ICC World Twenty20. After Pakistan got their tour schedule off to a perfect start with victory in Auckland last week, New Zealand hit back in some style in Hamilton on Sunday.
Chasing down Pakistan’s respectable total of 168, New Zealand got there with more than two overs to spare thanks to a record Twenty20 international partnership between Martin Guptill and captain Kane Williamson. The knock of 171 between the two openers gave the hosts a 10-wicket win and represented quite the turnaround for New Zealand, and Guptill in particular. The 29-year-old was out for just two runs in the first match of the series, as Pakistan claimed a well-deserved 16-run victory. But he is now relishing the three-match series going down to the wire.
“It’ll make it for a pretty exciting game on Friday,” Guptill, who hit an unbeaten 87, said after victory in Hamilton. “I think everyone’s looking forward to that and hopefully we can get a great crowd out in Wellington. It’ll be our last Twenty20 for six weeks or so, so it’s a great opportunity for the guys to go out and show ourselves one last time in the shortest format. Everyone’s looking forward to it, and it’s going to be a pretty good night. Hopefully the weather plays its part and we can come away with a series win.”
Not only will Friday’s encounter decide the series ahead of the teams facing off in three one-day internationals, but it will also be their last chance for fine tuning in cricket’s 20-over format before going for glory in India in March and April. Ahead of the World T20, New Zealand and Pakistan are currently locked level in the ICC rankings, with the winner on Friday set to leap up to fifth spot.
For the hosts, victory would be all the sweeter for it having come without outgoing captain Brendon McCullum and injured pace bowlers Tim Southee and Trent Boult. As for Pakistan, a series win would be a welcome reward after suffering a heavy 3-0 loss to England in their last T20I series, in the United Arab Emirates last November.
But, having failed to take a wicket in Hamilton, there will now be a clear desire to improve their bowling performance on Friday. Mohammad Amir, playing his first series since serving a five-year ban for spot-fixing was the most expensive of the bowlers last time out and remains with just one wicket from the two matches. Meanwhile, captain Shahid Afridi, who impressed with the ball in the first match, also struggled second time around. But spin bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed is hopeful Pakistan can overcome Sunday’s disappointment.
“We’ll be discussing how we can improve. I think maybe from a coaching point of view we can develop more variation in our bowling, a bit more smart fielding positions. That's the only thing. But [Guptill and Williamson] played outstandingly well.
“As a professional team you should be up to it and not let yourself go down so quickly. Good teams always bounce back. And this is our role to tell them ‘Come on this is the time to stand up and deliver the best skills you can.’”
Match time: Friday, 1 a.m. EST
Live streaming: ESPN3