Pakistan have been pushed this T20I series, in a manner they weren’t against Australia, but no matter the challenge thrown at them, they seem to find a way in this format. The detractors are finding it harder to explain away Pakistan’s spell of dominance as a purple patch, a streak of good fortune, or a consequence of playing against weaker teams. They have now put Australia and New Zealand to the sword with the same ruthlessness that overpowered West Indies, Sri Lanka and Scotland, showing a versatility in the paths to victory this side can take. They have won tough, they have won easy. They have won by enormous margins and heart-stoppingly narrow ones. They have won batting first, they have won chasing. And now, with one to spare, they have won another T20I series, their 11th in a row.
This one comes against the side that has tested them more in this run than arguably any other, both this week and in New Zealand earlier this year. Yet, they go into the final game in Dubai having won their last four against Kane Williamson’s men, and their last eight overall. Should they stick to their plans, they are well-fancied to come out of yet another series unblemished, their strength lying not just in the playing XI, but their overall depth. They might make the odd change to the fast-bowling unit, but in what is overall a very settled side there should be no overhaul for a dead rubber. With Pakistan having such a proud recent record to defend, there really are no dead rubbers for Sarfraz Ahmed’s team.
Despite having lost one series within three days of the tour beginning, it is unlikely Williamson will be too disappointed with what his men have showed. There is plenty to suggest New Zealand have a lot to offer for the remainder of this tour, with the visitors always likely to mount sterner challenges in the longer formats. A win in the final T20I could well be a springboard to success in the games that follow, and with New Zealand having lost one game by two runs and the other by two balls, it isn’t a stretch for them to hope they can put one on Pakistan even if they cannot prevent them lifting the trophy.
New Zealand have missed Martin Guptill’s big hitting at the top, with the young Glenn Phillips unable to complement Colin Munro quite as effectively. They have to work out how to make better use of the first six overs to relieve some of the pressure on Munro. It may see the captain promoting himself to open, with Williamson famous for his ability to pierce narrow gaps in the infield. There is a large discrepancy between Phillips’ T20I strike rate – 98.27 after nine innings – compared to the 134.20 he boasts in T20s overall, and if he is backed for a third game, he will need to bring his best to give his side the greatest chance to victory.
Pakistan WWWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand LLLLL
In the spotlight
There are few more exciting players in Pakistan cricket than Fakhar Zaman, and yet, since his heroics in Zimbabwe, he has been going through a slightly barren limited-overs run. Either side of a successful Test debut, Fakhar has scored 105 runs in his last eight white-ball innings at an average of 13.13, numbers that sit uncomfortably with his deservedly elite status in the current Pakistan side. There is no particular reason you could put this down to except just one of those runs every cricketer will go through; after all, in his maiden Test appearance against Australia, he amassed 160 runs. But having returned for the second T20I from a slight niggle, Fakhar may be itching to make the sort of singular impact only he can. With the series won and the pressure off, it is an ideal opportunity, and if Fakhar is primed to grasp it, he could smash New Zealand out of the game very early on.
While New Zealand have almost matched Pakistan in both games, the one area where the difference in quality is vast is the spinners the respective captains can turn to. While Sarfraz has a plethora of options the envy of any international side – think Shadab Khan, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Hafeez, perhaps even Shoaib Malik – Williamson is limited to Ish Sodhi and Ajaz Patel. There is a reason Sodhi is ranked among the top ten T20I bowlers, but his economy rate is higher than any of Pakistan’s quartet of spinners, and it was his 17-run over that put Pakistan on course on Friday. Add to that the inexperience of Patel, who after an impressive debut was indifferent in the second game, leaving Williamson to draw on three overs of Munro’s medium pace. If New Zealand are to seriously challenge Pakistan, Sodhi and Patel have to perform out of their skins in these conditions where spin matters so much, because so far, the gulf is evident.
It is unlikely Pakistan will make too many changes to a side so brimful of confidence. With the series sealed, Waqas Maqsood might get a debut.
Pakistan: (Possible) 1 Babar Azam, 2 Fakhar Zaman, 3 Asif Ali, 4 Shoaib Malik, 5, Mohammad Hafeez 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt & wk), 7 Faheem Ashraf, 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Shadab Khan, 10 Hasan Ali, 11 Shaheen Afridi/Waqas Maqsood
It has been a bit of a surprise not to see Mark Chapman feature yet. He may be drafted in for the third T20I, should New Zealand decide to drop Phillips. Lockie Ferguson‘s pace, too, may see him get a start ahead of Adam Milne, who despite looking promising, hasn’t quite hit the heights he may have this series.
New Zealand: (Possible) 1 Colin Munro, 2 Glenn Phillips/Mark Chapman, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Colin de Grandhomme, 5 Ross Taylor, 6 Corey Anderson, 7 Tim Seifert (wk), 8 Tim Southee, 9 Adam Milne/Lockie Ferguson, 10 Ish Sodhi, 11 Ajaz Patel
Pitch and conditions
Winning the toss and batting first seems to be the favoured formula at the moment, and there has been nothing to suggest the teams rethink that. As has been the case all series, competitive totals appear to nestle in the narrow strip between 145 and 155.
Stats and trivia
Colin Munro’s strike rate of 162.00 is better than any player ever to have faced more than 250 balls in T20I cricket. The best performer in the Pakistan squad is Fakhar Zaman, with a strike rate of 142.12.
Babar Azam needs 48 runs to reach 1000 in T20Is. Should he get there on Sunday, in his 26th innings, he will beat Virat Kohli (27 innings) as the fastest to the mark.