Abu Dhabi: It was in 1969 that New Zealand had last won an away Test series against Pakistan and they will be keen to end the nearly five-decade drought when they meet the hosts in the first of the three-match series starting at the Shaikh Zayed Stadium on Friday. The action starts at 10am.
The task, however, will be a Herculean one for the Kiwis as Pakistan, despite being ranked seventh in the ICC Test Team Rankings, are currently on a roll in the longer format.
The hosts have beaten Ireland in the latter’s own den before drawing a two-Test series in England and have also tamed the Aussies 1-0 in their adopted home in the UAE.
Shaikh Zayed Stadium has also been a stronghold of Pakistan as they have lost just one out of the 11 Tests played here. More importantly, it will be interesting to see how well the New Zealanders can handle the pace of Mohammad Abbas and escape the spin-web of leg-spinner Yasir Shah, who pocketed 15 wickets in the last drawn series in 2014. Off-spinner Bilal Asif will also be another serious threat for the Kiwis.
“Yes, our bowling attack is good. Abbas has been bowling superbly while Yasir didn’t look as great as we had expected, but the way he bowled in the second innings it looked like he was back in rhythm and so in this series I expect him to do well,” said Sarfraz Ahmad. The skipper is sure his team will have to play good cricket to beat New Zealand, whom they have not won against since 2011.
“New Zealand are a good side and they have good bowling attack and experienced batsmen,” he said. “They gave us tough times both in the Twenty20s and One Day Internationals. So we will try to play our best cricket.
Sarfraz’s men blanked the Kiwis in the T20I series 3-0 before the latter bounced backed in the ODIs to draw 1-1 after the last match was abandoned due to rain.
Sarfraz also has an option of using his in-form pace sensation Shaheen Shah Afridi, who was adjudged the man-of-the-series in the ODIs.
“Shaheen Afridi is the team so that he can be ready for the series ahead against South Africa,” said Sarfraz. “He will be here and working on his bowling and if need arises we can look towards him.”
New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson, who returns to the squad after missing the third one-day with a groin strain, stressed on the need for his team to adapt to the conditions soon.
“Obviously, coming into Pakistan’s home series there is a lot of work to do in terms of the overseas sides adapting to the conditions. Look to learn quickly because we want to be playing our best cricket under these conditions,” said Williamson acknowledging that Abbas and Yasir will be their main threat.
“They both are outstanding bowlers and bowling well for a long time. Abbas, ever since he entered international cricket, is bowling superbly around the world.”
Williamson has a strong bowling line-up led by Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Matt Henry and Neil Wagner.
Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmad (captain), Mohammad Hafeez, Imam-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali, Haris Sohail, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Saad Ali, Yasir Shah, Bilal Asif, Mohammad Abbas, Hassan Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Faheem Ashraf, Mir Hamza.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (captain), Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls, Ajaz Patel, Jeet Raval, Ish Sodhi, Will Somerville, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner.