New Zealand go off beaten track in search for victory

In September this year, Daniel Vettori had admitted that his Test future was “on the backburner” after a spate of injuries had left him unsure of his fitness to cope with the demands of the format. Expectedly, then, most of the attention in the lead-up to the Test has been on his inclusion in the New Zealand squad, even if it is only a “one-off”.

Vettori, who last played a Test in July 2012, was travelling in the UAE with the New Zealand A squad, focused on building up his workload ahead of the World Cup. His selection, unconventional as it is, also shows New Zealand’s desperation to win the final Test and level the series. They put Pakistan under pressure on the final day of the second Test, with an interesting declaration, but the inexperience of their spinners also came through.

In terms of number of matches, not much separates the spin pair of Ish Sodhi and Mark Craig from Yasir Shah and Zulfiqar Babar – where Sodhi and Craig have played 15 Tests between them, Babar and Shah have 10. Towards the end of the day in Dubai, however, Craig and Sodhi couldn’t summon the consistency and guile to make use of a day-five pitch and choke Pakistan.

Mike Hesson, the New Zealand coach, has pointed out that making use of footmarks on tracks was something the pair were still adapting their technique to, and on a track that’s likely to be the lowest and slowest of all the surfaces in the series, the visitors will be banking on Vettori’s experience and knowledge.

For Pakistan, the second Test was a trip out of their comfort zone, a break in their series of bat-first-bat-big strategy that brought them so much success against Australia and in the first Test of the series. Their second innings on the final day of the game was one of the toughest they have played in recent Tests in the UAE and while they were jittery, it gave the likes of Shan Masood and Asad Shafiq a chance to show their mettle in negotiating the draw. Pakistan will be wary of the fact that a 1-1 scoreline at the end of the series could cost them the No. 3 spot in the Test rankings, as they will fall behind England if they lose this match.

Form guide

 

Pakistan: DWWWL (most recent first, completed matches only)
New Zealand: DLWLW

In the spotlight

 

Since his debut in 2010, Kane Williamson has been New Zealand’s leading run-scorer in away Tests, scoring more than half his runs overseas. In five Tests played in the calendar year, prior to this series, Kane Williamson had scored 583 runs at an average of more than 60. In four innings here, he has managed 69 runs. With Tom Latham and Ross Taylor finding form, a big innings from Williamson could give New Zealand a decisive advantage.

One of the cogs of Pakistan’s recent domination has been the solid starts provided by Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez. With both batsmen out due to injuries, Pakistan were forced to put together a new pair inShan Masood and Taufeeq Umar. While Umar failed in both innings, Masood scored a 40 in the second innings. Pakistan will hope both batsmen can find form in Sharjah but will also be aware that Azhar Ali has contributed to two fifty-plus stands in the last two games in which he has opened.

Team news

 

Before Vettori’s inclusion in the squad, there was speculation that Luke Ronchi would be given a debut in place of Jimmy Neesham. As things stand, it’s likely that New Zealand could go for a three-spinner attack, with Vettori fulfilling the role of a bowling allrounder.

New Zealand (probable) 1. Tom Latham, 2 Brendon McCullum (capt), 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Corey Anderson, 6 BJ Watling (wk), 7 Daniel Vettori, 8 Mark Craig, 9 Ish Sodhi, 10 Tim Southee 11 Trent Boult

Pakistan could make one change, bringing in Imran Khan in place of Ehsan Adil

Pakistan(probable) 1 Shan Masood, 2 Taufeeq Umar, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Asad Shafiq, 7 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 8 Yasir Shah, 9 Ehsan Adil/Imran Khan, 10 Zulfiqar Babar, 11 Rahat Ali

Pitch and conditions

 

Coaches of both sides have acknowledged they expect the track at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium is expected to be low and slow, which means the side winning the toss could opt to bat. The weather is expected to be dry and hot for the duration of the Test.

Stats and trivia

  • One of the last instances of New Zealand fielding three spinners in a Test came in 1998 against Sri Lanka in Colombo, where the side’s spin attack included offspinner Paul Wiseman and left-arm spinners Vettori and Mark Priest.
  • If he plays the third Test against Pakistan, Daniel Vettori will become New Zealand’s most capped Test player. He is currently tied with Stephen Fleming (111 games) on that list. Overall, Vettori’s career tally of 112 games includes one for the ICC World XI.
  • Pakistan’s highest score at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium is 493 against West Indies in 2002. However, they have also been dismissed twice in one game for scores of 59 and 53 at the ground against Australia, also in 2002.

 

Quotes

 

“We think using three spinners and Dane being the third one, the workload might not be overly excessive. With the World Cup around we don’t want to break him in a one-off Test match situation and we think we can certainly manage.”

Brendon McCullum is confident New Zealand can manage Daniel Vettori’s fitness during the Sharjah Test

“We have played quite a bit of cricket here, one-dayers and Tests and we are sure we are going to do well here but we are not going to do anything different from what we did in the first two Tests.”

Pakistan coach Waqar Younis insists his side are on the right track despite their shaky draw in Dubai.

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