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So far, both teams have played 53 Tests against each other, out of which New Zealand won 8 and Pakistan 24 Getty Images

After the 3-0 drubbing in Tests against India and loss in the subsequent One-Day International (ODI) series, New Zealand team are back in their country and gearing up for the upcoming Test series against Pakistan. They have had a difficult last 3-4 months, with the only consolation being a win against lowly Zimbabwe apart from the losses at the hands of South Africa and India. The next assignment is not going to be any easy either, with Pakistan being in top form of late. The Asian side drew 2-2 in Tests against England; considered to be a difficult frontier, before beating West Indies 2-1 in their adopted home. Pakistan have thus arrived in New Zealand high on confidence. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: India vs England 2nd Test at Visakhapatnam

The two teams will lock horns in a two-Test series beginning Thursday, November 17 at Christchurch. The city has been in news of late, after an earthquake of 7.8 magnitude had hit it a couple of days back. But thankfully, barring a minor scare for the visitors, all is well and the first Test will go as per the schedule. The first of the two Tests will be played at the Hagley Oval. As mentioned earlier, both the teams have had a contrasting fortune of late. While Pakistan have tasted success, briefly staying at the top of the ICC Test rankings as the No. 1 Test team in the world before being toppled by Virat Kohli and Co., New Zealand have had a poor time. They lost the two-Test series in South Africa in August this year before going down to India recently away from home.

Pakistan, on the other hand, have landed in New Zealand as a confident unit. While Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan continue to guide the side with their experience, the likes of Mohammad Aamer, Yasir Shah, Sarfraz Ahmed, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and young Babar Azam promise a lot for the future. The eyes shall be on Aamer, who made an international comeback earlier this year from the same country, and Azam, who recently slammed three back-to-back hundreds against the West Indies in the One-Day International (ODI) series and followed it up with an impressive Test debut (69 and 21 runs) against the same side.

New Zealand, the hosts of series, are bogged down by the form and combination issues ahead of the series. After a string of losses, they are under tremendous pressure to do well at home. A lot of places in the Test team were under serious consideration when the selectors sat down for picking up the squad. Opener Martin Guptill, who was not a certain starter for Tests in India in the first place, did little in the three-Test series. He was thus rightly dropped after a dismal run of scores and replaced by the Indian-born Jeet Raval, who should have ideally played against India too.

With no other opener in the squad, Raval is all set to make his delayed debut against Pakistan in the first Test. The other changes New Zealand had made to their squad were calling another uncapped player, all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme and Todd Astle to the 13-man squad. The latter earned a recall four years after playing his solitary Test. He is a leg-spinner who can be a decent batsman.

After landing in the country, Pakistan coach Micky Arthur had called the decision of adding Astle to the squad as an interesting one, before saying: It will be interesting to see how Astle goes. I was actually looking at his numbers and doing a bit of analysis and his numbers seem fairly good, I mean he s certainly an attacking spinner, Arthur was quoted as saying by the Express Tribune.

On the other hand, Grandhomme is a medium-pace bowling all-rounder who has played an ODI and four T20Is for his adopted country four years back in 2012. Grandhomme is of Zimbabwean origin and left the country of his birth in 2006 to make a cricket career in New Zealand.

The other players New Zealand have dropped from the squad for India Tests besides Guptill are Doug Bracewell, Jeetan Patel (who was called mid-way from English County season), under-fire wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi, spinning all-rounder Mitchell Santner (he is injured), leg-spinner Ish Sodhi and injured off-spinner Mark Craig. Surprisingly, veteran batsman Ross Taylor survived the axe but he will be under tremendous pressure to get some runs under his belt.

Coming to this series, Pakistan were scheduled to kick-start their tour with a four-day practice match against the New Zealand A side at the Saxton Oval in Nelson. However, the match was abandoned without a ball being bowled due to rain. This will mean that the Asian side will walk into the match without any practice and will have to acclimatize early to do well in the first Test.

Pitch:

The Christchurch wicket was in the news last year for all the wrong reasons. Former New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming had blasted the Hagley Oval head groundsman Rupert Bool on social media last summer for preparing a wicket which did not assist the hosts. Fleming had criticised Bool on Twitter before February s Test against Australia, writing, We re not here to serve up a pitch to suit New Zealand . The legendary captain was miffed with the groundsmen on not providing pitches suited to the hosts advantage even as New Zealand get regularly offered dust bowls in the sub-continent.

Ahead of the start of the first Test, the focus has gone back to the pitch, with the chief curator of Hagley s remaining true to his philosophy that a pitch should be fair. He has clarified that the pitch for the first Test will not be a green top or a dustbowl, but will be a fair wicket, same for both the teams. With the initial reports coming in, the pitch for the game starting Thursday is expected to provide considerable assistance to the bowlers on first three mornings before becoming better for batting as the Test progresses. There is also a forecast of rain for first two days, with things getting better for the rest of the game.

Squads:

New Zealand: Kane Williamson (c), Jeet Raval, Tom Latham, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, James Neesham, BJ Watling (wk), Todd Astle, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult, Matt Henry, Colin de Grandhomme.

Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq (c), Sami Aslam, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Younis Khan, Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Wahab Riaz, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Amir, Sohail Khan, Sharjeel Khan, Rahat Ali, Mohammad Nawaz, Imran Khan.

(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is a senior writer with Criclife and CricketCountry. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed here @CricfreakTweets)