Pakistan look to Abbas and company to trouble NZ

This isn’t the Boxing Day Test that’ll fill the most column inches, generate the greatest number of app notifications or create the most viral hashtags on Twitter. Mount Maunganui, sadly, is no match for Melbourne as New Zealand and Pakistan don’t quite stack up against their giant neighbours, Australia and India, who also face each other on the same day. But for those interested in more niche contests, more arcane storylines, and arguably equally absorbing cricket, tuning into this Test instead of that one promises to leave you equally satiated, reports ESPNCricinfo.

Set aside the financial might of Australia and India, and you’ll find New Zealand vs Pakistan stacks up well against it on cricketing merit. New Zealand, for one, don’t intend to play dark horses to anyone these days, as they look to clinch two further Test wins to complement their 2-0 series win against West Indies and get one foot in the World Test Championship final. Pakistan, though heavy underdogs, will be buoyed by an impressive performance against England despite losing the series 1-0; the scoreline doesn’t quite reflect how close they were to a memorable series win. If they can bring that same fight, and, more importantly, bowling quality, to these two Tests, New Zealand will find these Tests won’t be the cakewalk the ones against Jason Holder’s men ended up being.

New Zealand, though, are a fearfully well-oiled machine who relentlessly stack up the series wins at home. Only South Africa and Australia have beaten New Zealand in a Test series at home since January 2011. For much of this time, the core of this side has contained arguably two batsmen and two bowlers who rank among the greatest ever New Zealand cricketers: Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Tim Southee and Trent Boult. The presence of Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls and Neil Wagner ensures the home side is neither unbalanced nor overly reliant on a handful of individuals.

Pakistan, meanwhile, have been left reeling by the absence of Babar Azam, who was due to make his debut as Test captain. It not only leaves a big hole in the heart of the batting line-up but also means Mohammad Rizwan needs to take on even greater responsibility – as stand-in captain, batsman and wicketkeeper, while the openers, who didn’t quite manage much against New Zealand A last week, will need to step up. The trio of Shaheen Afridi, Naseem Shah and Mohammad Abbas with the ball are by far Pakistan’s biggest hopes of discomfiting New Zealand over the next fortnight, with a helping hand from the batsmen carrying the potential to make this a fabulously exciting series.


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