Pakistan and New Zealand both claimed the high ground on the eve of the first Test in Christchurch on Thursday (November 16), with the hosts drawing inspiration from Brendon McCullum’s classic farewell innings.
A 7.8-magnitude earthquake rattled the city and devastated parts of the South Island, but the game is set to go ahead as scheduled. Misbah-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain, looked to cash in on a perceived lack of confidence in the New Zealand ranks after their dismal tour of India, where they suffered a 3-0 series whitewash in Tests.
New Zealand struggled against spin where Ross Taylor, with a career average of 46.24, averaged less than 15 in six innings. Several of the players who were on the tour have now been left out of the squad for the Pakistan Tests, including Martin Guptill, Luke Ronchi, Ish Sodhi, Jeetan Patel and Doug Bracewell. Mitchell Santner was unavailable for selection, having fractured his wrist during a domestic game
While Pakistan are on a high after defeating West Indies 2-1 in the Test series last month, Kane Williamson, the New Zealand captain, claimed his side would be rejuvenated with a return to home conditions and seamer-friendly wickets.
Williamson said New Zealand’s challenge was to pick themselves up. “It’s important when you come off the back of that India tour, which was extremely tough, that we still come back here and play with freedom, express our skills. When we do, we play our best cricket,” he said. “There will be a little bit of movement for the seam bowlers, but we’ve played in these conditions a lot and certainly back ourselves to play positively.”
When New Zealand last played at Hagley Oval, McCullum, the former captain, smashed a record 54-ball century against Australia in a brutal onslaught that produced 145 runs off 79 deliveries. Williamson, incidentally, had scored seven off 69 in the same innings. “Brendon was the complete opposite,” he said “It was a great example of someone playing with freedom and I think that came come from the confidence of knowing your own conditions.”
New Zealand, who have not won a series against Pakistan since 1985, will delay finalising their side as late as possible although it has been confirmed that Jeet Raval, the opener, will make his debut. One of four pace bowlers in the squad is likely to be omitted to make room for Todd Astle, the legspinner.
Misbah said the Pakistan line-up was already confirmed, but he was giving nothing away before the toss other than to say seamer-friendly conditions would not hinder them. They played in similar conditions in their drawn series against England earlier this year. “That experience is really going to help us here because of the kind of confidence we gained from that,” said Misbah.
Pakistan have their own motivation, having lost their top world ranking, and Misbah said they were keen to get it back. Despite New Zealand pitches not being renowned for taking turn, Yasir Shah, the legspinner, remained his trump card.
Yasir, with 116 wickets at 27.04 from 19 Tests “can get something out of any conditions”, felt Misbah. “It’s all about building pressure, bowling in the right areas, playing with the mind of the batsman,” he suggested. “Regardless of the conditions, you can be effective and good bowlers always learn ways to get people, and I believe he is that kind of bowler.” -AFP