New Zealand takes on Pakistan in a riveting test series starting on December 26.
The visitors will be led by Mohammad Rizwan who will be the nation's 33rd test captain as regular skipper, Babar Azam is out due to a thumb injury. Shadab Khan will also not be playing after suffering a thigh injury.
The hosts will be bolstered by the return of Kane Williamson. New Zealand recently blanked West Indies 2-0 and will be looking to carry forward the winning momentum. They are placed third on the ICC World Test Championship (WTC) table and a series sweep would take them closer to the top spot.
New Zealand has four world-class pacers in Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, and Kyle Jamieson. Daryll Mitchell will don the all-rounder's hat in place of Colin de Grandhomme who suffered a right ankle injury. Ross Taylor is back after being excluded from the T20 team.
Pakistan has some decent fast bowlers in Mohammad Abbas, Shaheen Afridi, and Sohail Khan. Yasir Shah will play a big role. The batting unit will revolve around the talismanic Azhar Ali with support from the experienced Fawad Alam and former captain, Sarfaraz Ahmed.
Pitch and Conditions
The Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui is one of the beautiful venues to play test cricket. It is ideal for the batsmen to play long innings. Bowlers can get some assistance with a limited swing on offer. The weather will be quite cloudy. Only 1 test match has been played before in this stadium when New Zealand and England clashed against each other last year.
Probable Playing XI
New Zealand (Nz): Tom Latham, Will Young, Kane Williamson (c), Tom Blundell, Ross Taylor, BJ Watling, Henry Nicholls/Daryll Mitchell, Trent Boult, Kyle Jamieson/Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner
Pakistan (Pak): Mohammad Rizwan (capt), Abid Ali/ Shan Masood, Azhar Ali, Fawad Alam, Haris Sohail, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Faheem Ashraf/ Naseem Shah, Shaheen Afridi, Sohail Khan, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Abbas
Tom Latham vs Yasir Shah
Latham is a typical old-school test opener who grinds out the new ball and sets the stage for stroke-makers to unleash later on. He needs to convert his good starts into big scores. He brings a lot of balance to the side and is a very good player of spin especially on turning pitches. He can cross the 4000-run mark in test cricket if he hits a big knock this series.
Yasir has become one of the mainstays in Pakistan's test line-up. The leggie is a big fan of the legendary Shane Warne. He has showcased his strong skills by controlling the flow of runs with his clever variations. He can bowl long spells tirelessly.
Trent Boult vs Azhar Ali
Ali scored a half-century in the warm-up game for Pakistan Shaheens against New Zealand A. He possesses a water-tight technique and a determined attitude. He can wear out the bowlers with his grit and resistance. He is a torch-bearer of Pakistan cricket and is very good in counter-attacking the opposition.
Boult is a regular member of the test side. He is a real threat with the new ball as he can swing it both ways. He mixes up his pace very well and forms a deadly combo with Tim Southee. He continues to pick up wickets regularly and can demolish any batting line-up on his day.
Pakistan will have to play an inspired style of cricket and come out with something special to end New Zealand's unbeaten summer run. The hosts are so strong in home conditions and play to their full strength by making good use of their available resources.
Cricwizz predicts New Zealand to win the match.