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NEW ZEALAND had entered the series on the back of a clean-sweep over the West Indies at home. Pakistan, too, had whitewashed Sri Lanka in the UAE before they set off for New Zealand. The hosts were declared favourites by everyone because they had played some outstanding cricket at home last year and had only lost to South Africa during that period whereas Pakistan hadn’t lost an ODI since losing to India in their first group match of the Champions Trophy.

But what promised to be a cracker of a series has turned out to be a lop-sided contest between the two sides, with New Zealand winning it comfortably on Saturday. So dominant have the Kiwis been in the first three matches that at no stage has it seemed that the tourists are there to challenge them.

Not only have Pakistan been beaten, they have been totally outclassed. In the end, the margins don’t even matter!

Whatever momentum Sarfraz Ahmed’s men had carried forward going into the series was lost in the first innings of the tour when skipper Kane Williamson scored a brilliant century and helped his team set a solid total on the board. From there on, it looked like Pakistan were completing a formality by merely participating in the games.

The top order has looked more brittle than ever, the experienced trio of Azhar Ali, Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik appearing to be all at sea against the New Zealand bowlers on the fast-paced, bouncy tracks. While Azhar has averaged a pathetic four in the series, Hafeez, who can’t bowl due to the ban impose by the ICC, has struggled to find his feet and averages just 20.33 in the first three games.

Malik, a real veteran, has averaged 14.33 so far. The poor form of talented Babar Azam has disappointed the fans. A lot was expecteed of him in this series but he has not been able to survive even a few overs on the crease and has averaged just six in the series.

The real question is, how can anyone expect a team to win a series if its top five batsmen are averaging 15.71 between them? To add insult to the injury, skipper Sarfraz, too, has had a horrid time with the bat. He surely needs to bat up the order since he is good at rotating the strike. He has had success in the past when batting at number four whereas Hafeez has always enjoyed batting at number six. How many games does Pakistan have to lose before they realise that by swapping the batting positions they can change the batting fortunes of the team?

The series is lost and the confidence is gone. Perhaps, the only positives so far have been the improved fielding standards and performance of Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan, Fahim Ashraf and, perhaps, Fakhar Zaman who missed the second ODI.

From what we have seen so far, it can be deduced that the Champions Trophy winners would want this tour to end as soon as possible because more misery is likely to be heaped on them by by the aggressive Kiwis.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2018