Has it really been only about 12 months since we were last in New Zealand? At the conclusion of the Twenty20 series which officially kicked off the six-week tour, it’s hard to deny a distinctive, surreal feeling about being back here.
Within the span of a year, we’ve been subjected to a lifetime of grief. So if there is any place to start burying the ghosts of our past it’s right here. New Zealand was effectively our gateway into hell last year and now we are back, perhaps to finally exit through that same gate from whence we entered.
The way I see it, this tour is important for two reasons: (i) to figure out our best combination for the World Cup, and (ii) the exorcism of our various demons before heading into that tournament.
In that light, our fortunes in the Test matches are fairly subordinate to those in the ODIs. In fact, I’d be tempted to refrain from attaching any relevance to the Test matches because of the pointlessness implicit in a two-Test series. In a test match, where the touring side needs at least one five-day game to come to grips with the format and its demands, it’s a joke having to decide a contest in the space of two Tests. As far as I’m concerned, a 1-0 loss in the tests wont matter a toss as long as we are able to get in some solid batting practice and allow our more inexperienced seamers to get some overs under their belt.
Whereas our last New Zealand tour was dominated by our bowling resources, it’s likely that our batting will define this visit. Our recent form would suggest we’re up to the challenge. By our standards, we had an excellent Test series against South Africa, albeit on docile pitches. However, it still takes discipline to maintain one’s wicket for a stretch of time and our batsmen have too often been serial culprits when it comes to losing focus. Which is why it was heartening to see our top order and, most commendably, Misbah and Azhar Ali stave off the South African attack for sustained passages of play. I look forward to seeing how the batting fares in the trickier conditions of Hamilton and Wellington and any confidence that Hafeez, Younis, Shafiq and Umar (if he plays the Tests) can extract from their test batting will be priceless when carried over to the ODIs.
Speaking of our batsmen, it was good to see Ahmed Shehzad in the Twenty20 squad and his sumptuous half-century in the final game (http://www.espncricinfo.com/new-zealand-v-pakistan-2010/engine/current/match/473920.html) was the highlight of the series for me. His performance may have propelled him into World Cup reckoning and hopefully he will be given a decent run in the six-game ODI part of the tour. With Umar Akmal keeping competently, I’d opt for slotting him in to open at the World Cup with Hafeez at the expense of Kamran.
The New Zealand team is vulnerable right now and their softness was on ample display during their meek capitulation in the final game. This is the same team that got the stuffing pummeled out of them by India and those wounds cannot possibly have healed. For all the cross-border rivalry, India may have presented to us the perfect antidote for our infected system. A couple of comprehensive performance against our traditional bunnies would put us in the perfect frame of mind going into the Word Cup. Forget Southee’s hat-trick and Guptill’s assault. Chalk those down to our habit of being slow out of the blocks. What matters is how fast we can catch up and a weakened New Zealand provides us the perfect opportunity to make up lost ground and more.
New Zealand have always been there when it mattered to give us a morale boosting victory when we need it. Their inevitable trouncing has been the one relative constant in Pakistan cricket and if there was ever a time for them to deliver, it’s now.
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