New Zealand had come into this series talking about how difficult a challenge UAE was going to be. Having lost the toss, they saw Pakistan run up 566 for 3, their highly rated new-ball bowlers both went wicketless for the first time in a Test, and they were behind the game from start to finish in Abu Dhabi, leaving them with no doubts over the enormity of the task ahead.
“We didn’t adapt as quickly as we liked, but we are a group of quick learners,” New Zealand coach Mike Hesson had said after the dispiriting defeat. There is plenty to learn too – the batsmen struggled not just against spin but against reverse-swing as well. Pakistan’s inexperienced quicks, backed by the cushion of a mighty first-innings score, totally outbowled Tim Southee and Trent Boult, just as they had outbowled the Australian pace attack last month.
Even given Pakistan’s reputation for conjuring the unexpected, their run over the last month has been surreal. Three dominant wins (as many as they had after the famous England whitewash in early 2012), 13 centuries in three Tests (as many as they had managed in the previous two years), the famously watchful Misbah-ul-Haq equalling the record for the quickest hundred in Tests. Now that they go in as overwhelming favourites, will they confound expectations again, or will they pile up gigantic scores and smother the opposition one more time?
The one setback for the red-hot Pakistan team is that their perennial problem of finding a settled opening pair has cropped up again. Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez had shown signs that they might be the answer, but Shehzad is now home with a minor skull fracture and Hafeez is a doubtful starter due to a hamstring injury.
(most recent matches first)
New Zealand LWLWD
In the spotlight
When the challenges of playing the UAE are listed, heat and spinning surfaces top the list, but the fast bowlers Rahat Ali and Imran Khan have shown that they are not in the XI just to make up the numbers. They have 17 wickets in the last three Tests, striking with new ball and old, getting both conventional and reverse swing, and have ensured that the batsmen remain under relentless pressure.
In 2012, Ross Taylor showed that the tracks of Asia held no demons for him, with a commanding century in Bangalore followed by a glorious 142 against Sri Lanka. That mastery was not in evidence during the Abu Dhabi, when he was done in early by the spinners twice. New Zealand will want more from their senior batsman.
Pakistan would have loved to continue playing the same XI that has brought them such success over the past month, but have been forced to change the opening combination. They will take a final call on Hafeez on Monday, but they have two specialist openers in the squad as back-up – Shan Masood, who played two Tests against South Africa last year, and Taufeeq Umar, who will attempt yet another comeback after being out in the cold for two years.
Pakistan (probable) 1 & 2 Shan Masood/Taufeeq Umar/Mohammad Hafeez, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Asad Shafiq, 7 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 8 Yasir Shah, 9 Zulfiqar Babar, 10 Rahat Ali, 11 Imran Khan
Brendon McCullum said he would continue to open the batting, but was more guarded about the rest of the team composition. It remains to be seen whether they drop one of the pace-bowling allrounders for a specialist quick or for an extra batsman.
New Zealand (probable) 1 Tom Latham, 2 Brendon McCullum (capt), 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Corey Anderson, 6 James Neesham, 7 BJ Watling (wk), 8 Tim Southee, 9 Mark Craig, 10 Ish Sodhi 11 Trent Boult
Pitch and conditions
Misbah-ul-Haq didn’t expect any surprises from the pitch. “It looks a typical Dubai pitch, which normally will be batting (friendly) in the start, later on it might just slow down and little bit more turn.”
McCullum expected another “spin-heavy” surface in Dubai, and talked up the significance of the toss. “Pretty important toss no doubt, we desperately would like to win the toss and do what we want to do first,” he said. Temperatures will be in the early 30s through the week and, unsurprisingly, no rain is predicted during the game.
Stats and trivia
- Younis Khan currently has six Test centuries in 2014. Another will put give him a share of the second spot for that record. The overall leader is Mohammad Yousuf, who scored an incredible nine in 2006 – as many as Stephen Fleming scored in his entire career.
- Entering his fourth Test, Imran is yet to score his first international run, having only got one opportunity so far.
- Only one of seven Tests in Dubai has ended in a draw
“It will be slightly worrying because Shehzad is in good form and Hafeez gives us an extra option of bowling, but we have to face up to such things.”
“I spoke to someone the other day and they were like,’It’s going to be juicy’. I asked, ‘Juicy as in … same?’ he said ‘No, no, juicy for spin’. That doesn’t surprise me.”