Well, how do you top that then? How do you get back to the grind after an achievement that will almost certainly define this tournament for Pakistan, regardless of what happens hereon in? Beating India might not bring its own trophy, but for a significant chunk of Pakistan supporters, getting that monkey off their back was really what mattered this tournament. To shake off that euphoria and have to go again less than 48 hours later carries its own challenges, but perhaps its own opportunities too.
If the India game carried the emotions of an epic arch-rivalry, there’s a different kind of tense hostility to the clash against New Zealand. This, remember, is the side that pulled out of a tour of Pakistan minutes before the first game was due to be played citing security concerns; the spiraling chain reaction that followed saw England pull out, too, and the entire home season for Pakistan thrown into jeopardy. If a surging Pakistan can find a way to channel that righteous anger in Sharjah tomorrow, New Zealand have quite the task on their hands.
But while New Zealand’s pullout hurt Pakistan’s World Cup preparations significantly, it’s worth remembering Kane Williamson’s side didn’t gain much from the decision, either. The five extra T20I games they had lined up in Asia ahead of this tournament never materialised. While some of the squad did end up linking up with their IPL franchises in the UAE, that was never going to perfectly replicate playing as a team in the subcontinent. The two warm-up games they did get last week – against Australia and England – saw New Zealand turn in somewhat flat performances, finding themselves on the wrong end of the result each time.
But if Pakistan pride themselves on their unpredictability, New Zealand have turned consistency at ICC events into an art form. In a group where India suddenly look a shade vulnerable, they have their opportunity to state their credentials by getting one over a Pakistan side that might not have fully returned to earth after the stratospheric heights they hit on Sunday. They have among the most well-rounded bowling attacks of the tournament – high pace in Lockie Ferguson, bounce with Kyle Jamieson, swing with Trent Boult and variation with Tim Southee, in additions to both a legspinner – Ish Sodhi and a left arm orthodox bowler in Mitchell Santner. That adaptability means they can might be able to press any of a number of gameplans into service as the situation allows, and – to use that most tired of cliches – punch above their weight.
Pakistan WWLLW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand WLWLL
In the spotlight
It’s fairly obvious the most exciting aspect of the contest should be Shaheen Afridi against whichever New Zealand opener he finds himself bowling to, particularly if they’re right-handed. The Pakistan left-arm pacer’s first two overs burst through India’s top order on Sunday, and a match-up against someone like Martin Guptill should in theory favour the bowler. If Pakistan can get early wickets through their trump card once more, they might feel they can follow the template of the India game, restrict New Zealand to a below-par total, and allow Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan to do their thing.
The early evidence of the World Cup suggests these surfaces should suit Mitchell Santner‘s game rather well. Coming in from around the wicket, the left-arm offspin should be difficult to negotiate at any stage of the innings. If New Zealand feel aggressive enough, he might even open the bowling to mirror the role Imad Wasim will play for Pakistan, especially if he deploys the arm ball to good effect. He was arguably the pick of New Zealand’s bowlers in the warm-up games against Australia and England, and probably won’t get a better chance to lead the line in a global tournament.
Pakistan are extremely unlikely to change the side that brought them Sunday’s 10-wicket win.
Pakistan: (probable): 1 Babar Azam (capt) 2 Mohammad Rizwan (wk) 3 Fakhar Zaman 4 Mohammad Hafeez 5 Shoaib Malik 6 Asif Ali 7 Shadab Khan 8 Imad Wasim 9 Hasan Ali 10 Haris Rauf 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi
New Zealand played around with their combination during the warm-ups so their line-up is a bit less predictable. Two spinners, though is pretty much a lock, so expect Santner and Sodhi to both line up. The batting line-up, according to Williamson, is flexible, depending on conditions. The captain himself should be fit to play, despite an ongoing elbow niggle he described as a “work in progress”.
New Zealand (possible): 1 Martin Guptill 2 Devon Conway 3 Glenn Phillips 4 Kane Williamson (capt) 5 Tim Seifert (wk) 6 Daryl Mitchell/Todd Astle 7 Mitchell Santner 8 Tim Southee 9 Trent Boult 10 Lockie Ferguson/Kyle Jamieson 11 Ish Sodhi
Pitch and conditions
The surface in Sharjah might be conducive to bigger hitting than the ones in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are. The evidence of the Sri Lanka-Bangladesh clash on Sunday would appear to bear that out. This fixture, though, will be played on a new strip, but the low bounce in Sharjah could still be something to watch out for. Dew, too, could be a problem later into the night, which in theory might make fielding first an attractive option.
Stats and trivia
- Pakistan have won three of the five T20 World Cup clashes against New Zealand, though Kane Williamson’s men won the most recent encounter in Mohali in 2016
- Tim Southee is one wicket away from becoming the third bowler with 100 T20I wickets after Shakib al Hasan and Lasith Malinga
“It was a really disappointing situation. I know the team that were there were very much looking forward to the occasion and playing cricket over in Pakistan, and it was a real shame that it wasn’t able to go ahead”
Kane Williamson talks about New Zealand pulling out of last month’s tour of Pakistan
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000