Pakistan vs New Zealand: No clear favourites as Kiwis return to Test cricket
Kane Williamson has only played Tests at home since late 2016. @Getty

Switching back to Test cricket after more than seven months, as well as coping with the conditions and challenges of playing spin and a very crafty record-setting pace bowler, face Kane Williamson’s New Zealand as they meet Pakistan in the first Test from November 16 in Abu Dhabi.

New Zealand are ranked fourth in Tests, three spots above Pakistan at seventh, but last played a Test in March, when the beat England 1-0 at home. More tellingly, it is New Zealand’s first away Test series since 2016. Over the past two years they have only played Tests at home: beating Pakistan, Bangladesh and West Indies by 2-0 margins, losing to South Africa 0-1 in a three-match series and then beating England 1-0. New Zealand last toured for Tests in September 2016, when they were beaten 0-3 in India.

Williamson has been cleared of a minor groin injury after having sat out the last match of the drawn ODI series, and this series gives him a chance to increase his fine Test numbers. Clubbed together with Steven Smith, Virat Kohli and Joe Root in the list of this era’s best batsman, Williamson does not play as many Test as Australia, India and England do, and delivering for New Zealand in a country where they held Pakistan to 1-1 draw in the only tour here in 2014.

Pakistan, who beat Australia 1-0 last month, have retained their core group and with their knowledge of conditions and the skill of Mohammad Abbas and Yasir Shah, appear well placed. They had a few issues against Nathan Lyon in Dubai, and then failed to bowl out Australia in the fourth innings, which shows that there are weaknesses. In Abbas they have potentially the biggest weapon of all, and if he keeps up his exceptional Test success then Pakistan will be very hard to beat.

The teams will move to Dubai for the second Test starting November 24, and then travel back to Abu Dhabi for the third Test, which begins on December 3.

Date: November 16

Venue: Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi

Time: 11:30 IST

Weather: Sunny with a high of 33

Team News

Pakistan 

Fakhar Zaman has been rested despite scoring 160 runs in his debut Test against Australia last month, which gives Mohammad Hafeez, at the age of 38, another chance to cement his place at the top.

Mohammad Hafeez has a chance to consolidate his spot as an opene
Mohammad Hafeez has a chance to consolidate his spot as an opener. @ AFP

With conditions expected to aid spin more than seam, Pakistan are likely to pick two frontline pacers. One of them is of course Abbas, who was Man of the Series against Australia, and the other could be the uncapped Shaheen Afridi, who impressed during the ODIs against New Zealand, taking two four-wicket hauls. That would keep Hasan Ali and Mir Hamza on the bench, with the seam-bowling allrounder Faheem Ashraf also sitting out. Against Australia, Pakistan had played four bowlers with Haris Sohail there to bowl part-time off spin.

The leg spinner Shadab Khan is another player rested, which gives Asif Ali another shot alongside Yasir Shah. The uncapped batsman Saad Ali, who made 114 for Pakistan A against New Zealand A, is not likely to get the nod.

Probable XI: 1 Imam-ul-Haq, 2 Mohammad Hafeez, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Haris Sohail, 5 Asad Shafiq, 6 Babar Azam, 7 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt/wk), 8 Bilal Asif, 9 Yasir Shah, 10 Mohammad Abbas, 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi

New Zealand 

The former New South Wales spinner Will Somerville, aged 34, and Ajaz Patel, 30, are both vying for Test debuts. Somerville first played first-class cricket at the age of 30, and four years later could join Ish Sodhi as the second spinner in the New Zealand XI, unless fellow uncapped late-bloomer Patel gets the nod.

Will Ajaz Patel  get the nod as second spinner?
Will Ajaz Patel get the nod as second spinner? @Getty

This leaves New Zealand to choose two frontline fast bowlers – the allrounder Colin de Grandomme will be the third seamer – from Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Matt Henry and Neil Wagner. Boult and Wagner are left-armers, so it could be that South gets the nod with the latter.

Probable XI: 1 Jeet Raval, 2 Tom Latham, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 BJ Watling (wk), 7 Colin de Grandhomme, 8 Tim Southee, 9 Ish Sodhi, 10 Neil Wagner, 11 Will Somerville/Ajaz Patel

Statistics

– Of bowlers with more than 50 Test wickets since 2016, Abbas’ strike-rate of 38 is second best, after Kagiso Rabada.

– de Grandhomme averages 32.66 with the bat at 12.22 with the ball versus Pakistan in Tests.

– Asad Shafiq needs 67 runs to complete 4,000 in Tests.

– Pakistan have won six off 11 Tests in Abu Dhabi, losing just one.

Quotes

“Things have rolled on and obviously coming to New Zealand a few months ago, it’s happened quicker than I was expecting. It’s been an absolute thrill.” – Will Somerville