The New Zealand Blackcaps begin a jam-packed home season when the ANZ Test Series against Pakistan begins in Christchurch on Thursday morning.
The last Test series between the two nations was a draw, but overall, Pakistan have won more series in the longest form of the game. But in terms of individual games, New Zealand came out the winner last time out.
In a summer where Mike Hesson and his Blackcaps will play against three of world cricket’s best sides, an earthquake has marred the preparation for both New Zealand and Pakistan ahead the series opener.
New Zealand’s South Island was struck by a major earthquake on Monday morning. Pakistan has confirmed that they are safe: they were staying nearby in Nelson at the time and were due to travel to Christchurch later in the day. There is also concern that Thursday’s series opener may be in doubt due to the quake, but after evaluation of Hagley Oval, New Zealand Cricket say that the Test will go ahead.
Blackcaps Face Selection Dilemma Ahead Of First Test
New Zealand selectors have some difficult decisions to make prior to Thursday, especially in their bowling department. Tim Southee, despite his experience, has endured a slump in form recently and Neil Wagner is widely perceived to be the better choice for the opening Test.
Last week, several New Zealand regulars got the chance to play domestic cricket in the Plunket Shield. It served as a trial of sorts, with everyone keen to stick their hand up for international duty.
Experienced opener Martin Guptill has been left out of the series in favour of the uncapped Jeet Raval. Guptill simply isn’t as good a batsman at Test level, and in his nine innings this year, has scored 393 runs at an average of 24. But Raval, 28, has been travelling with an average of 40, scoring 244 runs in three matches this domestic season alone.
Guptill may be missing out on this Test series, but he believes he still has a place in the side moving forward. His experience counts for something, but there is a theory of sorts that Pakistan have brought a weakened bowling attack to New Zealand.
New Zealand coach Mike Hesson rubbished claims that Guptill would be better suited batting in the middle order in Test cricket. For the time being, Guptill will return to Auckland and play Plunket Shield cricket before rejoining the New Zealand squad for their ODI tour to Australia.
New Zealand has had so many different opening partnerships in Test cricket over the years, so this latest change should come as no surprise. Tom Latham is establishing himself as a reliable opener, but apart from Mark Richardson, New Zealand Cricket have always had an issue in this key pairing for the longer form of the game.
Pakistan Won’t Fear Being Away From Home
Pakistan are ranked No.2 in Test cricket and come into the series with recent success against the West Indies and England, but they did lose their last encounter in the longer format. The pitches in New Zealand will be vastly different to the UAE, and the main difficulty will be coping with the swinging ball early on. But coach Mickey Arthur says that his team has some exciting batsman, and is confident that his bowlers can take twenty wickets in a Test.
Pakistan great Azhar Mahmood has been recently appointed as the side’s bowling coach. Not only will his respect from the players help, but he brings a lot of experience playing in New Zealand and has been involved in successful there.
While the bowling attack for Pakistan may be slightly weaker than expected, New Zealand batsman can not look past the likes of Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz. Amir in particular bowled well during a short T20 series in New Zealand last summer, and there is no question that his comeback from an international ban has been a great success.
Hagley Oval is expected to produce a good, fair wicket for the Test but the ball is expected to swing early. Following the first Test, the series then moves to Seddon Park in Hamilton before its conclusion at the end of November.