Wellington: New Zealand will rise to the top of the world rankings for the first time, replacing Australia, if they avoid defeat against Pakistan in the second Test in Christchurch and wrap up their two-match series.
After seven straight home Test series triumphs, New Zealand will be strong favourites to secure another against a Pakistan side that showed great fight at Mount Maunganui but still lost the first Test by 101 runs.
A victory at Hagley Oval to seal a 2-0 series sweep would also push the Black Caps firmly into contention for one of two berths in June’s inaugural World Test Championship final at Lord’s.
Under the leadership of Kane Williamson, who returned to the top of the world Test batting rankings after his 23rd career century at Bay Oval, the Blacks Caps have developed into possibly the most consistent outfit in the test game.
They will, however, need to find a replacement for pace bowler Neil Wagner, who battled through the pain of two broken toes to finish the first Test but will miss the second.
Matt Henry, who was brought into the squad after recovering from a hand injury, is likely to get the nod as a like-for-like replacement with batting all-rounder Daryl Mitchell another option.
A 165-run partnership between Fawad Alam and Mohammad Rizwan stalled New Zealand’s charge to victory at Mount Maunganui and Pakistan will look to draw on that fighting spirit on another green track.
The tourists will continue to be without regular skipper Babar Azam who failed to recover from a fractured thumb sufficiently to take his place in a top order also missing opener Imam-ul-Haq, who has returned home with a similar injury.
The announcement from team doctor Sohail Saleem came just hours after stand-in captain Mohammad Rizwan said Azam had batted well in the nets but wanted more practice time before being confirmed in the starting XI.
Azam has not played on the tour since breaking a thumb during a practice session soon after completing a Covid-enforced 14-day quarantine on arrival in New Zealand.
“We have seen an improvement in Babar Azam’s injury but he is yet to fully recover,” Saleem said. “He is our captain and the most important batsman in our lineup so we do not want to take any risk.”
Saleem said the team was “hopeful” he will be available for Pakistan’s upcoming home series against South Africa.
New Zealand and Pakistan were forced to train indoors on Saturday because of rain but the weather forecast looks precipitation-free for Sunday’s first day with the outlook good for the rest of the match.