Bengaluru– An injury-tormented New Zealand will seek resurgence while Pakistan need a continuation of their recent resurrection, and that subtext of desperation could turn their crucial World Cup match into a classic here on Saturday.
The fortunes of New Zealand and Pakistan went through sharp curves after a bright beginning, leaving them in a tight spot in the race to the semifinals of the quadrennial big bash.
The Kiwis started the tournament with four wins on the bounce, and it looked a matter of time before they sealed a last-four berth.
Since that point, they have fallen to three defeats in a row against India, Australia and South Africa, and they are now stranded at eight points from seven matches.
On the other side, Pakistan are in an even dingier space with six points from seven matches.
Apart from the dwindling on-field returns, New Zealand will also have to deal with another obstacle ahead of their clash with Pakistan — a growing injury list that has five names in it.
Matt Henry hurt his hamstring against South Africa and the pacer is set to miss the match against Pakistan, forcing the Kiwis to summon strapping fast bowler Kyle Jamieson as his cover.
James Neesham had suffered a hit on his wrist in the match against the Proteas and the Kiwis will keep a close eye on his recovery.
Other than them, Kane Williamson (thumb) and Mark Chapman (calf) are in various stages of their recuperation, and they are unlikely to take the field against Pakistan.
But they will have a crumb of comfort in the knowledge that pacer Lockie Ferguson has recovered sufficiently from his right Achilles niggle to play against Pakistan.
But that is just a part of the consolation as the New Zealand bowlers will have to regain their sense of target against Pakistan, something they sorrily missed against Australia and South Africa while conceding 388 and 357 respectively.
It will not be easy for them though at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, an unforgiving cauldron to the bowlers with its true pitch and short, quick outfield.
The core of their bowling unit consisting of left-arm pacer Trent Boult and left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner, Kiwis’ highest wicket-taker here with 14 scalps, will have to be at their thriftiest against Pakistan, who have the ability to hurt the opponents.
However, New Zealand might not have forgotten their shabby batting against South Africa when they were bundled out for 160, and they will want to treat it as an aberration, producing an impact effort against Pakistan.
Rachin Ravindra, Devon Conway, Daryl Mitchell and Glenn Philips will have to shoulder the bulk of the scoring against Pakistan.
The 23-year-old Ravindra has amassed 415 runs from seven matches at an average of 69.16 and his strike-rate stands at 105.59.
The left-hander will also be keen for a memorable outing in a city where he traces the roots of his family.
The Black Caps will also need Tom Latham and Will Young to contribute heavier runs to take some pressure away from the aforementioned quartet.
So, the current standing of things might be tempting to place Pakistan as favourites even if by a slight margin.
But even a dominant eight-wicket win against Bangladesh, their first after four defeats in succession, was inadequate to wash away all their fragilities as it was just enough to keep their semifinal ambitions burning.
Babar Azam’s form has been an elephant in the room as the captain is still searching for that daddy hundred despite making three fifties.
Perhaps, a stuttering New Zealand will offer him a chance to wipe that blemish.
Till that actually happens, Pakistan have to pin their hopes on Mohammad Rizwan and opener Abdullah Shafique to have a productive outing against the Black Caps.
With over 300 runs in their kitties, Rizwan and Shafique have been their most bankable batters in this event.
Opener Fakhar Zaman made a rollicking 81 against Bangladesh on his return from an injury, and that might boost Pakistan’s confidence going into this match.
That said, their middle-order batters Saud Shakeel and Iftikhar Ahmed are yet to find consistency barring the odd flashes and Pakistan will want them to up their effort as the tournament enters its final lap.
Left-arm fast bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi is showing signs of closing in on his best while the three-wicket haul of seamer Mohammad Wasim against Bangladesh might have eased Pakistan’s worry over the extra option in the pace department.
But their spinners — Shadab Khan and Usama Mir — continue to be underwhelming, a deterrent to Pakistan’s ability to dictate terms in the middle-overs.
New Zealand might target that soft underbelly of Pakistan bowling to set themselves up for a final flourish.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (c), Trent Boult, Mark Chapman, Devon Conway, Lockie Ferguson, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Daryl Mitchell, James Neesham, Glenn Phillips, Rachin Ravindra, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Will Young. Kyle Jamieson (as cover for Matt Henry).
Pakistan: Babar Azam (c), Shadab Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Abdullah Shafique, Mohammad Rizwan, Saud Shakeel, Iftikhar Ahmed, Salman Ali Agha, Mohammad Nawaz, Usama Mir, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammad Wasim.
Match starts at 10.30 AM.
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