Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Pakistan seek positive approach on spicy track

Big Picture
While tawny Asian pitches can still prompt outrage and consternation, tracks coloured a lurid, nausea-inducing green have quietly become a New Zealand trademark. The response from most touring sides has been perfectly even-handed. “These are their home conditions,” is the consensus. “We just have to play on what we get.” On the eve of the Test, Hamilton’s track looks as green as the pitch had been in Christchurch. As the air is warmer up north, the ball may swing more here, as well as seam. Word around the ground is that the toss may also prove significant; teams that have won it in the last five Tests have inserted the opposition, and have always wound up victorious. It is the batting that will have given Pakistan most cause for concern in Christchurch and, as can often be the case with batsmen in unfamiliar conditions, they veered between extreme approaches – too loose in the first innings, too tight in the second. Now they are preaching the “get runs, before the good ball gets you” philosophy that has recently found credence on tough tracks.

In the backs of their minds they will also want to take the game deep – it is legspinner Yasir Shah who has most consistently wrenched matches open for them, and it is the quality of his spin that marks the visitors’ clearest advantage over New Zealand. The hosts are without Trent Boult for the first time in over three years, but have the firepower of Matt Henry sliding in to replace him. With a win behind them, and a damp surface underfoot again, banished is talk of the dusty whitewash in India, even if the batsmen haven’t all reclaimed their form just yet. They remain wary of Pakistan’s propensity to work out foreign conditions, and hit back after losses, but will be happier with the forecast than the visitors. Rain is expected on the first day, and may continue, in patches, all through the weekend. Less sunshine, means less evaporation, means less turn off the pitch for Yasir.

Form guide
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand: WLLLL , Pakistan: LLWWW

In the spotlight
Tim Macintosh, Jamie How, Peter Ingram, Martin Guptill, Hamish Rutherford, Michael Papps, Craig Cumming – just pick any Anglo-Saxon first name and there will have been a modest New Zealand opener that answered to it, over the last ten years. The latest man to take guard is Gujarat-born Jeet Raval. Stylish and composed in his debut outing, and emerging with the highest match aggregate on a difficult pitch, Raval knows Pakistan will have better plans for him in this Test. If he is effective again in Hamilton, he will raise hopes that he’s the man to break the curse of the New Zealand opener.

With long-term collaborator Misbah-ul-Haq now out of the picture, the middle-order batting/recovery responsibilities fall heavily on the shoulders of Younis Khan. There are mild whispers he is no longer his old self on sporting pitches, but surely this is premature; the man has scores of 218 and 127 and 51 in his last seven innings. Nevertheless, such is international sport when you reach a certain age. Pakistan will look to him for leadership in this match, and after three consecutive single-figure scores, Younis will want a big score more than anyone.

Pitch and conditions
Green and damp on this occasion, Hamilton has seen bounce, turn, reverse swing and conventional swing, at different points over the past few years, so it is difficult to know what to expect. Unless rain washes out several sessions, a result appears likely, though.

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