Just over a month after the two teams met Down Under, Pakistan and New Zealand square up once again, this time on the biggest stage of them all – the World Cup. Pakistan won that series played in New Zealand and also enter this Group A match as favourites after winning all of their 3 matches convincingly while New Zealand, despite beating Zimbabwe and Kenya by 10 wickets, enter this match as the lesser fancied team. Reckless shot selection contributed to their downfall against Australia while Pakistan, led by their inspirational skipper, beat Canada despite having only 184 runs to defend.
Openers Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez are yet to find their feet in the tournament while Kamran Akmal has got off to good starts before throwing it away. Misbah Ul Haq can’t do a thing wrong of late and he, along with Younis Khan and Umar Akmal will look to move the things around in the middle overs thus setting up Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq to cut loose during the slog overs. Shoaib Akhtar is expected to return in place of Wahab Riaz while Saeed Ajmal will be desperate to prove his point as Abdul Rehman continues to sit out with injury. Shahid Afridi has undoubtedly been the star of the tournament so far with his 14 wickets in three games and the Kiwi batsmen won’t expect to have it any easier at Pallekelle.
Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum blazed away against the Kenyans and Zimbabweans ensuring ten wicket victories but that also meant that the middle order spent no time at the centre. The middle order comprising of Taylor, Ryder, Franklin and Styris struggled against the quality pace attack of Australia and this is something Shoaib and Co. will be eyeing. The Kiwis have the strongest lower order in the tournament with Oram, Nathan McCullum and Vettori coming in at No.7, 8 and 9 but they will be banking on the top order to deliver the goods. The virgin pitch of Pallekelle is expected to assist the seamers and Bennett and Southee will look to make full use of the new ball.
A victory for Pakistan will strengthen their bid end on top of Group A whereas a win for New Zealand will all but guarantee them a place in the quarterfinals. Can the Kiwis shrug of their tag of being the weakest among the strong or will it be Shahid Afridi’s signature pose of arms thrust towards the sky that will capture Pallekelle’s debut on the international scene?
Pakistan: Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Kamran Akmal (Wicketkeeper), Younis Khan, Misbah Ul Haq, Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi (Captain), Abdul Razzaq, Saeed Ajmal, Umar Gul, Shoaib Akhtar.
New Zealand: Brendon McCullum (Wicketkeeper), Martin Guptill, Jesse Ryder, Ross Taylor, James Franklin, Scott Styris, Jacob Oram, Nathan McCullum, Daniel Vettori (Captain), Hamish Bennett, Tim Southee.
Live Telecast: Star Cricket (14:30 Local Time, 9:00 GMT)