Martin Guptill is an Auckland native, but Wellington Regional Stadium, where New Zealand and Pakistan play their third and final Twenty20 International on Friday (January 22), holds fond memories for him, and it’s a fact that won’t be lost on anyone in attendance come game day.
It was at this venue that Guptill came up with a showstopper, an unbeaten 237 off 163 balls, to blow West Indies away in the quarterfinal of the 2015 World Cup. This time, Guptill will have a maximum of 20 overs to work with but, going by his recent form, that is unlikely to cramp his style.
In fact, in the last game in Hamilton, Guptill (87 not out) and Kane Williamson (72 not out) put on a record 171-run opening stand to help New Zealand overhaul Pakistan’s 168 for 7 with 14 balls to spare. The result helped New Zealand draw level after Pakistan had edged them by 16 runs in the first game in Auckland.
While Guptill has been a constant, New Zealand have been flexible about the rest of the batting line-up, with Colin Munro capable of opening if Williamson wants to return to the middle order. New Zealand have stressed that they won’t look a gift horse in the mouth if the top order fires once again, but with Friday’s game being the last T20I the side plays ahead of the World Twenty20 2016 in India, the likes of Ross Taylor, Corey Anderson, Grant Elliott and Luke Ronchi would probably be better served with some time out in the middle.
For that to materialise, the Pakistan bowling attack needs to be more incisive than it was in Hamilton. Mohammad Amir, who went for 34 runs in three overs, is learning exactly how much the game has changed since his first romp around the block, but the others can’t use that excuse. Shahid Afridi, the captain, went at 9.5 an over, while Wahab Riaz has been guilty of leaking runs in both games, and, as senior players, both need to step up.
Mushtaq Ahmed, Pakistan’s spin bowling coach, insisted that it was an off day for the bowlers and the unit would bounce back. “We’ll be discussing how we can improve,” he said. “I think, maybe from a coaching point of view, we can develop more variation in our bowling, a bit more smart fielding positions.”
But that isn’t Pakistan’s only concern; the batting has been largely hit and miss. Mohammad Hafeez and Umar Akmal have shown glimpses of brilliance, but lacked support at the other end. Due to the fast-paced nature of the game, totals in the 170 range no longer make opposition batsmen quake in their boots, and Pakistan need to adapt quickly.
New Zealand have the edge, and a series victory will not only affirm that they are on the right track but also be a big boost for a bowling unit missing the likes of Tim Southee and Trent Boult. For Pakistan, who lost 3-0 to England in UAE in November, the ball is now in their court to show that they can bounce back.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (capt), Corey Anderson, Todd Astle, Trent Boult, Grant Elliott, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Mitchell McClenaghan, Adam Milne, Colin Munro, Luke Ronchi (wk), Mitchell Santner, Ross Taylor.
Pakistan: Shahid Afridi (capt), Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Sohaib Maqsood, Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Anwar Ali, Aamer Yamin, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Wahab Riaz, Umar Gul, Mohammad Rizwan, Saad Nasim, Mohammad Amir.