Struggling Pakistan won’t be easy to beat, says New Zealand coach Stead

Published December 24, 2022
A file photo of New Zealand head coach Gary Stead. — AFP
A file photo of New Zealand head coach Gary Stead. — AFP
KARACHI: New Zealand players attend a training session at the National Stadium on Friday, ahead of the first Test against Pakistan.—Tahir Jamal/White Star
KARACHI: New Zealand players attend a training session at the National Stadium on Friday, ahead of the first Test against Pakistan.—Tahir Jamal/White Star

KARACHI: Taking on Pakistan, not long after they received a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of England at home, will not be an easy task for World Test champions New Zealand, their head coach Gary Stead said on Friday.

The BlackCaps are set to play two Tests and three One-day Internationals on effectively their first tour of Pakistan in 19 years. They arrived here on late Thursday morning and will go straight into the first Test at the National Stadium on Monday.

“At this stage there is still a bit of jet lag in the group, but in the next few days sleep will be important to us as well as training out here,” Stead told reporters following their first practice session at the venue. “We’ve had a fine welcome and it’s exciting to be in Pakistan.”

England became the first team to inflict upon Pakistan their first-ever Test whitewash at home when they beat them in the third and final game by eight wickets earlier this week.

The Ben Stokes-led side had registered 74 and 27-run victories over the hosts in the first two matches, in Rawalpindi and Multan respectively. On both occasions, fourth-inning targets looked to be in Pakistan’s reach, only for batting collapses to follow.

Stead believed Pakistan lacked in luck and missed their top players — out due to injuries — during the England series and that he expected Babar Azam and co. to bounce back strongly.

“Definitely don’t think Pakistan can be beaten easily,” he said.

“I think there are times in Test cricket that you get a little bit of the rub off the green and things go your way. I think maybe Pakistan haven’t had that recently and have had a few injuries to key players in their team as well.”

New Zealand watched the Pakistan-England matches “very, very closely”, Stead revealed before providing his short analysis of it.

“Whilst it was 3-0 to England, I think it was a very tight series still and at times could have swung either way so we’re certainly not underestimating Pakistan at all, especially in their home ground as well,” he said.

While the Rawalpindi Test saw England pacers James Anderson and Ollie Robinson bundling down the Pakistan line-up bringing reverse swing in full use, spinners were much more dominant in the Multan and Karachi Tests — so much so that the hosts’ leg-spinner Abrar Ahmed went on to become the highest wicket-taker with 17 in just two outings.

“I think spin will play a bigger part than what we are probably used to normally but we also saw signs of reverse swing at times as well so for us honing our skills in that area will be very important,” observed Stead.

Considering the conditions at play, New Zealand included leg-spinner Ish Sodhi in the squad for the two Tests — the second of which will be played in Multan.

The Karachi fixture, if Sodhi plays it, will be his first Test since November 2018, the time after which he has spent on the sidelines working on his bowling action.

“Ish has been in and around our Test team in the past and hasn’t played for some period of time but he’s made a few changes in his action in the last 12 months and we think he’s probably going to be a little more consistent than what he has been prior to that when he wasn’t playing for us,” Stead said.

“But the conditions that we face here are very, very different to what we get in New Zealand as well, so we picked out the squad thinking that a leg-spinner will be important and we’ve obviously seen Abrar and [Zahid] Mahmood bowling well for Pakistan in the recent Test series.”

Stead, who was appointed as the New Zealand head coach in 2018, said the Kiwis will approach the Pakistan games in accordance to their own strengths rather than the home side’s recent record.

“.. for us coming here its more focused on what we can do well,” clarified the 50-year-old. “I expect [the Test matches] are going to be tight, hard fought and maybe very close as well like [Pakistan’s} last ones against England.

“We know the rivalry we have with Pakistan is fantastic, it’s always friendly on the field but fiercely competitive as well.”

The Pakistan series will also mark the start of the New Zealand pacer Tim Southee’s era as the BlackCaps Test captain after his predecessor Kane Williamson stepped down from the position earlier this month.

Williamson lead New Zealand for six years across all red and white-ball formats before calling it a day as skipper citing increasing workload. Stead believed Southee will bring fresh leadership ideas to the New Zealand camp in his new role but Williamson will be someone he will still look up to for help.

“He’s been captain for six years in all three formats and now I think over time he’s realised that maybe just pulling back a little bit gives him the chance to really just focus on his batting and still giving to the team,” the New Zealand coach said of Williamson. “He’d still be a great leader in our group.

“We’ve gone for Tim Southee as our captain and it will be a little bit different having a pace bowler as captain. But Tim’s got a great cricketing brain and looking forward to the way he manages the side through this series in particular as his first.”

Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2022

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