Abu Dhabi: New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson and Co. will not only have to deal with spin ace Yasir Shah’s threat but also tackle teen sensation Shaheen Afridi’s pace in the series-deciding third and final Test against Pakistan at Shaikh Zayed Stadium, starting Monday.
A shoulder injury to medium pacer Mohammad Abbas during the second Test has opened the doors for young Shaheen, who has been waiting in the wings after showing tremendous form in Pakistan A win against England Lions — claiming seven wickets — last month.
The Kiwis have already got a taste of Shaheen’s pace during the one-day series in which he claimed four-wicket hauls back-to-back and finished as Man-of-the-Series.
Yasir will hold the key in the decider though, given the nature of the wickets here. Though the match is not played on the same wicket that saw Kiwis clinch a dramatic four-run win, it is expected to be similar with plenty of assistance for spin.
Yasir, who claimed 14 wickets to hand New Zealand a crushing defeat by an innings and 16 runs in the second Test in Dubai, is just five wickets away from reaching 200 wickets and skipper Sarfraz Ahmad accepted that the leggie will have an important role to play.
“Don’t know whether he holds the key; only almighty knows. He has got his rhythm back and we hope that with the return of his form, he will do his best. We will do our best to win this Test to win the series,” said Sarfraz, who brushed aside any suggestion that the loss in the first Test at the same venue will have any effect on the team.
“We lost the game but built confidence in all three departments and won the second Test so that confidence is there,” said Sarfraz, who justified Shaheen’s selection saying the latter was ready for the Test challenge.
“The thinking was that we wanted to make him part of the Test team. He bowled well against England Lions and that brought him in the reckoning. He has pace and can reverse swing the ball and then Abbas got unfit,” added Sarfraz, who rated New Zealanders as a strong outfit despite their meek second Test defeat, as a team with plenty of firepower to bounce back strongly.
“New Zealand is a good team. They have players who know the Test cricket well. They have good bowlers and their middle order is strong — so we will also try to play good cricket because any mistake can make you lose this series.”
Kane Williamson, Sarfraz’s opposite number, said he and his team were “really excited to be involved in a decisive match here.”
“It was tough to come here to the UAE to fight Pakistan. They are a very strong side and know these conditions well; to be one up in the series after the first game and it was obviously disappointing to lose the second game. It was certainly not the performance that we wanted to put out,” said Williamson, who added that there were some positives in the second Test that they would like to build on, especially their batting in the second innings.
“No doubt, the first innings batting effort was one that we weren’t after. The next inning was far improved. To follow that up with a very good batting performance on a wearing pitch was a very good sign. It was a very good experience for a number of guys that they can build up going into the last match,” said Williamson, who felt it will not just be Yasir, but other bowlers will also be a test.
“They (Pakistan) all played very well on these conditions. Yasir clearly had a fantastic last game. He bowled a number of very nice deliveries and used the conditions really, really well. Obviously, a world-class bowler but the whole attack has been performing well together.”