Pakistan and New Zealand will hope for a reversal of fortune in the two-match Test series starting in Karachi from Monday after both were whitewashed 3-0 by England in their last series.
New Zealand were scuppered in England in May as the home team under head coach Brendon McCullum and skipper Ben Stokes introduced the aggressive “Bazball” style of cricket that is revolutionising the sport.
The never-say-die style also saw England inflict a first-ever 3-0 series defeat on Pakistan this month.
Since then, the Pakistan Cricket Board has undergone a revamp, with Ramiz Raja removed as chairman and chief selector Mohammad Wasim sacked.
Skipper Babar Azam is also under scrutiny after losing an unprecedented four home Tests on the trot.
Azam vowed his team would seek a quick turnaround.
“There have been difficult times in the last series,” said Azam, who has had to lead a side hard-hit by injuries.
“With new players, it’s different because when the opposition attacks them, it places a sharper kind of pressure on them,” he said. “It takes time to get used to that.”
Spearheads Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf will miss both the New Zealand games, having still not recovered from injuries, but Naseem Shah is available after missing the last two Tests.
Kamran Ghulam, who has accumulated runs in domestic matches, replaces the retiring Azhar Ali.
Since winning the inaugural World Test Championship final against India last year, New Zealand have won just two of nine matches, but will be skippered by fast bowler Tim Southee.
Head coach Gary Stead, however, believes the first Test will be a spin battle.
“But we also saw signs of reverse swing […] so for us, honing our skills in those areas is important,” he said.
Pakistan will hope mystery spinner Abrar Ahmed, who took 17 wickets in his first two Tests against England, will also hurt New Zealand on grounds where the visitors have won just twice in 19 attempts.
Left-armer Ajaz Patel — one of only three bowlers to take 10 wickets in a Test inning — is the key for New Zealand, who also have leg-spinner Ish Sodhi and spinning all-rounder Michael Bracewell.
Second Test shifted to Karachi
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and New Zealand cricket have announced that the second Test of the series, which was initially scheduled in Multan, has been shifted to Karachi.
In a press release issued on Saturday, PCB said that the decision was taken due to deteriorating weather conditions in Multan, which have disrupted flight operations and may also potentially result in the loss of playing hours.
“It has also been agreed between the two boards that the second Test and the three ODIs will now be brought forward by a day, meaning the second Test will commence on January 2 with the three ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Super League fixtures to be played on January 9, 11 and 13,” PCB added.
Here is the reviewed itinerary:
- 26-30 December - 1st Test, Karachi
- 2-6 January – 2nd Test, Karachi
- 9 January – 1st ODI, Karachi
- 11 January – 2nd ODI, Karachi
- 13 January – 3rd ODI, Karachi
Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Abdullah Shafique, Abrar Ahmed, Agha Salman, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Kamran Ghulam, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Wasim, Naseem Shah, Nauman Ali, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Saud Shakeel, Shan Masood, Zahid Mehmood
New Zealand: Tim Southee (captain), Michael Bracewell, Tom Blundell, Devon Conway, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Daryl Mitchell, Henry Nicholls, Ajaz Patel, Glenn Phillips, Ish Sodhi, Blair Tickner, Neil Wagner, Kane Williamson, Will Young
Umpires: Alex Wharf (ENG) and Aleem Dar (PAK)
TV umpire: Ahsan Raza (PAK)
Match referee: Mohammad Javed Malik (PAK)