Pakistan, New Zealand ready for challenge on untested Pallekele pitch

Pakistan meet New Zealand at the newly-built Pallekele stadium in the first-ever one-day match at the venue, a factor which Pakistan vice-captain Misbah-ul-Haq believes will give both teams plenty to think about

By Shahid Hashmi

Pallekele: Mar 8, 2011

In-form Pakistan batsman Misbah-ul-Haq said his team was ready for the double challenge of facing New Zealand as well as a mystery World Cup pitch on Tuesday. The Group A rivals meet at the newly-built Pallekele stadium in the first-ever one-day match at the venue, a factor which vice-captain Misbah believes will give both teams plenty to think about.

“Of course, it adds to the challenge because we don’t know how the pitch will behave but that’s the same for both teams, and as far as we are concerned we are up to the challenge,” Misbah said Monday.

The 36-year-old has anchored the Pakistan team in the World Cup with two half-centuries against Kenya and Sri Lanka and a hard-fought 37 in the last match against Canada. Pakistan sit top of Group A with six points after three matches, followed by co-hosts Sri Lanka (five points in four) and defending champions Australia (five after three), with New Zealand fourth with four in three matches.

Misbah said Pakistan’s recent one-day series win over New Zealand will count for nothing. “We have done well against them in World Cups and in the recent series there but that win will count for nothing as it’s a new game at a new place,” said Misbah, of Pakistan’s 3-2 win in New Zealand last month.

Pakistan will bring in paceman Shoaib Akhtar after resting him in the last match against Canada, while left-arm spinner Abdur Rehman will also be available after missing the last match due to a leg muscle injury.

Led by skipper Shahid Afridi’s leg-spin, which has garnered a tournament-leading 14 wickets, Pakistan possess variety in their bowling with off-spinners Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez, coupled with a strong new-ball attack of Akhtar, Umar Gul and Wahab Riaz.

“I think we know how good their bowling can be,” said New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori. “They can probably defend any score because of the nature of their bowlers. They bring a lot to the table.”

Pakistan successfully defended a below-par 185-run target against Canada and 278 against co-hosts Sri Lanka in the two of their three matches. New Zealand, who lost to Australia by seven wickets but eased past Kenya and Zimbawe by 10 wickets in each game, have four points after three matches.

“We know to win these big games it needs complete team performances and that’s what we have done. It’s a matter of stepping up against the harder teams,” said Vettori, whose country has lost six World Cup matches against Pakistan since winning their first in 1983.

Unlike the bowling head-to-head, New Zealand hold the upper hand in batting, with openers Martin Guptill (86) and Brendon McCullum (76) chasing a 186-run target against Zimbabwe without being separated.

“I’m not sure you could ask for too much more, we wanted complete performances out of ourselves and that we gave in the last match,” said Vettori, whose team have made the semi-finals in the last three World Cups.

The hill town of Kandy has suffered from persistent rains and the only international match here, a Test between Sri Lanka and the West Indies in December, was drawn without a single innings completed in five days. The warm-up matches before the World Cup were also moved because of bad weather.