New Zealand play their first ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2021 Super 12 match in Group 2 against Pakistan, who began their campaign with a historic win against India.
It took 13 attempts for Pakistan to finally get a win against India in World Cups, but when they did on Sunday, it was emphatic. The manner of their 10-wicket win, as much as the result, will give Pakistan confidence in their abilities as well as their plans for the rest of the tournament.
But, as skipper Babar Azam was quick to point out after the match, this is just the start for the team. "There's a long way to go in the tournament," he said. "It won't get easier just because we beat India."
The Black Caps are playing their first match of the tournament, and will be keen to start strongly. They have batters who can clear the ropes at the top and in the middle, a reliable anchor in Kane Williamson, tall fast bowlers, quciks who can swing the new ball, and a spin attack with plenty of experience.
On the ICC Men's T20I Team Rankings, there is little to separate the teams. Pakistan are placed third, while New Zealand are fourth. Pakistan hold a historical edge over New Zealand in the format, though, having won 14 and lost 10 contests between the sides. The last series between the sides, in December 2020, went New Zealand's way.
The teams were supposed to play another series in Pakistan as part of their preparation for the World Cup, but New Zealand pulled out owing to security concerns. Pakistan made their disappointment clear about this, but skipper Kane Williamson didn't believe this encounter would be a "grudge" match.
"It was a really disappointing situation," said Williamson. "But there are a lot of good relations with the two teams over the years, we've played a lot against each other and a number of players have played with each other as well. So I'm sure it'll be played in the right spirit."
Pakistan played the near-perfect game against India. Their fast bowlers were devastating in the Powerplay and clever with their variations at the death, while the spinners controlled the middle. They held their catches and their openers showed excellent timing and control, giving nothing away to the Indians. Their challenge will be to be consistent and maintain the intensity. They will also have to adjust to the conditions in Sharjah, where the inconsistent boundary sizes could come into play.
Probable Pakistan XI: Babar Azam (capt), Mohammad Rizwan, Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Asif Ali, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi, Haris Rauf.
New Zealand lost their warm-ups to Australia and England, but their bigger concern was injuries. Opener Tim Seifert had an abdominal strain while Mark Chapman was monitored for a hamstring niggle. Williamson too has been nursing an elbow injury that flared up in the warm-up against Australia, so much so that he did not bat against England. However, the skipper confirmed all players were available for selection and while his elbow was "a work in progress", it was improving.
Probable XI: Martin Guptill, Tim Seifert (wk), Kane Williamson (capt), Devon Conway, Glenn Phillips, Jimmy Neesham, Mitchell Santner, Kyle Jamieson, Lockie Ferguson, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee
Mohammad Rizwan: The Pakistan wicketkeeper was promoted to open in T20Is for the first time against New Zealand in December 2020. Since then, he is at 87.18 average and 139.38 strike-rate as opener, as against a career average of 16.81 and strike-rate of 96.35 outside those positions. The third match of that New Zealand series saw him kick off this run with 82* off just 59 balls, accelerating at the death to chase down a target of 174.
He comes into this World Cup game fresh off a dazzling half-century against India, in an innings that showed just why he is ranked among the top 10 T20I batters currently.
Devon Conway: The left-hand batter has enjoyed success across formats since his debut for New Zealand a year ago. He has two 90+ scores in just 14 T20Is, including a high score of 99*, which came against Australia. He strikes at 151.11. While he has some familiarity with the Pakistan attack, he has not played international cricket in the UAE and it remains to be seen if he can tee off on the slow and low surfaces of Sharjah.
Captaincy Pick - Mohammad Rizwan
Mohammad Rizwan has to be the top captaincy pick for this match, especially given his impressive T20I record, where he has an average of 52 in 32 innings. Against New Zealand, he has scored 132 runs at a healthy strike rate of 132. The Pakistan wicketkeeper has already started on a high note in this World Cup, with his unbeaten 55-ball 79 plus two catches against India helping his country to a 10-wicket win.
Must-have - Lockie Ferguson
The Kiwi pacer is an extremely reliable bowler in T20Is, and hence a must-have in your fantasy team. Ferguson has a phenomenal bowling strike rate of 11.5 in 13 T20Is. He was also in impressive form for IPL finalists Kolkata Knight Riders in phase two of the tournament, where he scalped 13 wickets in eight matches.
What they said
Kane Williamson, New Zealand captain: "They've got a very well-balanced side and a great mix of youth and experience, with Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik in the middle order, which brings a lot of experience to the side. Rizwan and Babar at the top of the order have been formidable in terms of their partnership and the quality they bring. So a very well balanced side and also a side that is very accustomed to playing here in the UAE."
Vernon Philander, Pakistan bowling coach: "We highlighted the importance of really staying grounded. Last night (against India) was a massive win for the boys, make no mistake about it, but we've got a tournament at hand and the boys want to stay focussed. Tomorrow is going to be another big game and the boys will reset and be ready."