New Zealand vs Pakistan is one of the games with extremely high stakes left in the league stage of the World Cup. Till some days ago, it looked like the four semi-finalists were locked in, with New Zealand in there and Pakistan just out. Things have changed since.
The turn for the worse for New Zealand has been dramatic. After four wins on the trot at the start of the league stage, form has fallen by the wayside, and defeats (three in a row) and player injuries have mounted. As number of their players are nursing injuries at the moment – though they trained in Bengaluru on the eve of this game – a couple more results not going their way could mean New Zealand dropping out of the top four.
At the start, they thrashed England – who didn’t? – before going on to beat Netherlands, Bangladesh and Afghanistan with performances that were solid rather than spectacular. New Zealand’s lack of genuine star power, particularly in the absence of Kane Williamson ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/kane-williamson-277906), was shown up in defeats against India and Australia, neither of them by a big margin. The only truly poor showing came against South Africa, a 190-run drubbing denting their net run-rate and keeping Pakistan interested.
But while worries of New Zealand’s slump might have a kernel of logic to them, reports of Pakistan’s ascent are almost certainly exaggerated. A couple of results falling their way might have made them dream of the semi-finals once more, but the only contribution Babar Azam’s own side has made towards that came in the form of a comfortable win against Bangladesh, one of the poorest sides in the tournament. It was preceded by four successive defeats that put them in the pickle they find themselves in now. And concerns around Pakistan’s inability to convert starts, the brittleness of the middle order, and the inconsistency of the bowlers remains.
Being a flawed side, however, hasn’t stopped Pakistan at ICC tournaments before, and once more, there are hints of just enough pieces beginning to fall into place in the jigsaw.
Shaheen Shah Afridi ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/shaheen-shah-afridi-1072470) is now the tournament’s joint-second-highest wicket-taker ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/records/tournament/bowling-most-wickets-career/icc-cricket-world-cup-2023-24-15338), and while he was primarily taking his wickets at the death, some new-ball scalps did come his way against Bangladesh. Fakhar Zaman ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/fakhar-zaman-512191), dropped for his own good after he had lost form and confidence, came back and looked like his vintage self against Bangladesh, hitting seven sixes as he punished both pace and spin with the kind of reckless abandon that made him stand out in Pakistan’s top order. And Mohammad Wasim ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/mohammad-wasim-1185538) found prodigious reverse swing at the death.
On Saturday, New Zealand will try to cling on to what they have, while Pakistan will try and snatch it away from them. This World Cup has not had enough close games, but a tense scrap for fourth place could well bring it on.
New Zealand LLLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first) Pakistan WLLLL
In the spotlight – Trent Boult and Pakistan’s spinners
Trent Boult ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/trent-boult-277912) was the joint highest wicket-taker at the 2015 World Cup, and eighth in 2019 with one of the best economy rates (4.83) for a frontline quick. In 2023, while he’s been dependable, the spark hasn’t quite been there. He has a significantly poorer average (33.10) and economy rate (5.09) than at prior World Cups, and is fairly low in the wickets chart with ten in seven matches. While a drop-off was predicted for a World Cup in India, it’s notable that 13 of the 17 bowlers to have taken more than ten wickets at the time of writing are quick bowlers. What Boult, and Afridi, do with the new ball is one to keep an eye on.
What can Pakistan do about their misfiring legspinners? Shadab Khan and Usama Mir have each had turns this tournament, with neither looking an upgrade on the other. Pakistan tried having both in the side against Afghanistan, only for that to end up being their limpest bowling performance all tournament. They could look at New Zealand, whose decisions around legspin have been clear – Ish Sodhi has not played all tournament. With Pakistan increasingly turning to Iftikhar Ahmed ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/iftikhar-ahmed-480603) over the legspinners – and even Mohammad Nawaz in a crunch situation like the final over against South Africa – they could look to simply pick another fast bowler. Either way, whoever fills that troublesome slot will find the spotlight on him.
Team news – Will Jamieson play?
New Zealand have flown Kyle Jamieson ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/kyle-jamieson-625960) back to India after Matt Henry was ruled out ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/2023-odi-world-cup-matt-henry-ruled-out-of-world-cup-jamieson-named-replacement-1406839), but there are other injury concerns too. In a positive development, however, the injured players Williamson (thumb), Mark Chapman (calf), Lockie Ferguson (achilles) and Jimmy Neesham (wrist) all trained in Bengaluru on Friday with New Zealand Cricket saying, “a decision on their availability will be left until game-day and likely confirmed at the toss”. But it’s likely that they will bring Jamieson into the XI straightaway.
New Zealand (possible): 1 Devon Conway, 2 Will Young, 3 Rachin Ravindra, 4 Daryl Mitchell, 5 Tom Latham (capt & wk), 6 Glenn Phillips, 7 Mitchell Santner, 8 James Neesham, 9 Kyle Jamieson, 10 Tim Southee/Lockie Ferguson, 11 Trent Boult
Fakhar’s return to form means he will keep his spot at the top of the order, and while Agha Salman was not required with either bat or ball against Bangladesh, he is expected to keep his place ahead of Nawaz.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Abdullah Shafique, 2 Fakhar Zaman, 3 Babar Azam (capt), 4 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 5 Saud Shakeel, 6 Iftikhar Ahmed, 7 Agha Salman, 8 Shadab Khan/Mohammad Nawaz, 9 Mohammad Wasim, 10 Shaheen Shah Afridi, 11 Haris Rauf
Pitch and conditions
The weather for the first half of this morning game looks clear, but gloomier skies lie in wait later. There’s a high chance that the second half of this game will impacted by rain, which could make the toss vital.
Stats and trivia
Boult is one wicket away from becoming the first New Zealander to take 50 ODI World Cup wickets. Tim Southee is the joint second-highest, tied on 36 with Jacob Oram and Daniel Vettori.
Pakistan have lost their last six tosses against New Zealand at ODI World Cups, but gone on to win five of those games. Overall, they have won seven of nine games against New Zealand at ODI World Cups, losing in 1983 and 2011
Earlier this tournament, Babar overtook Imran Khan’s runs tally at ODI World Cups. He needs 11 more to surpass Ramiz Raja, and 28 to overtake Inzamam-ul-Haq, which will place him behind only Javed Miandad and Saeed Anwar
“No excuse, but it [not playing the IPL] has been [a disadvantage]. And the interesting thing has been that every ground we’ve been to has been a new venue for our players, which is exciting. The players have really embraced that and they’ve enjoyed that fact because they’ve watched IPL on TV and they’ve seen Test matches at iconic grounds like Eden Gardens, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai.” Pakistan team director Mickey Arthur
“They’re a world-class team and they have been for a long time. We’ve played a lot of cricket against them, which is awesome for us. We loved touring Pakistan a few months ago and to be able to take them on here now in the World Cup’s cool.” New Zealand batter Daryl Mitchell
Danyal Rasool is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent. @Danny61000
Fast bowler Naveen-ul-Haq ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/naveen-ul-haq-793447), who last played an ODI in January 2021, has been called up by Afghanistan for the 2023 ODI World Cup, which starts in India next month.
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