Sports: Cricket: In-form teams Pakistan and New Zealand begin series today

Karachi: Pakistan has landed in New Zealand after seeing off Sri Lanka 5-0 in an ODI series in the UAE but the hosts are also in great form as they have blanked West Indies across formats as the two sides begin their five-match ODI series at the Basin Reserve in Wellington today (Saturday).

The two sides are, therefore, well-matched in terms of form.

That said, Pakistan have the arsenal to match the hosts shot-for-shot, especially given the return of Mohammed Amir, who would pair-up with Hasan Ali, the top-ranked ODI bowler.

Azhar Ali, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik and Babar Azam – their top run-scorer in ODIs in 2017 – form the batting core, with Fakhar Zaman, the opening batsman, capable of giving the visitors a brisk start, along the lines of that match-defining century in the Champions Trophy 2017 final.

Sarfraz Ahmed will also lead a fairly young bunch on tour, including Mohammad Nawaz and Shadab Khan, the spinners, and Imam-ul-Haq, 22-year-old opening batsman and the nephew of former captain Inzamam-ul-Haq.

Meanwhile, New Zealand would have loved to have Doug Bracewell in their midst. The all-rounder was ruled out of the first two ODIs due to an injury, having only just returned from a lengthy spell on the side-lines in December. However, the likes of Colin Munro, who became the only player to score three T20I centuries with a ton against West Indies, captain Kane Williamson, and Martin Guptill, who returned to form with a half-century in the final T20I, should give the hosts much to be confident about.

All of Tom Latham, the wicketkeeper-batsman, Todd Astle and Henry Nicholls are set to return to the side, having not played in the T20Is against West Indies. Latham finished as New Zealand’s third-highest run scorer in ODIs in 2017, behind Williamson and Ross Taylor. Pakistan could also be troubled by the New Zealand pace attack, led by Tim Southee and Trent Boult, as they aattempt to make the most of home conditions. The likes of Matt Henry, Mitchell Santer, and Lockie Ferguson should also prove a handful.

The last time these two sides competed against each other was in January 2016, when Pakistan visited New Zealand for a limited-overs series. On that occasion, New Zealand won the three-match ODIs series 2-0. That series had also marked the return of Amir to international cricket, following his five-year ban.

Much has changed since then though. For one, both teams have new captains – Brendon McCullum is retired, and Kane Williamson is now the BlackCaps leader while Sarfraz Ahmed replaced Azhar Ali. However, the core of each side has remained intact. The series may come down to how well the experienced professionals guide the youngsters.

Teams (from):

New Zealand: Kane Williamson (cap), Todd Astle, George Worker, Trent Boult, Lockie Ferguson, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Colin Munro, Henry Nicholls, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor.

Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed (cap), Azhar Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez, Haris Sohail, Faheem Ashraf, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Aamer Yamin, Rumman Raees.