Jonathan Swift may have died nearly 300 years ago, but watching Pakistan over the last few months makes you believe one of his creations at least still alive and well. When they were thrashing Sri Lanka from game to game in October 2017, they looked like Gulliver in the land of Lilliput. Now, going around New Zealand being outclassed ever more decisively with each match, it is Pakistan who have assumed the role of the dwarves. This tour must certainly strike Pakistan with a sense of d j vu; just that this time, they are on the wrong side of the experience.
There isn’t too much about the 3-0 scoreline this series that should surprise people. Kane Williamson leads a team that is favoured to win against just about anyone they play at home, and conditions that foster pace, bounce and movement are kryptonite for the Pakistani batsmen, who weren’t Superman to begin with. The margins of defeat, however, culminating in the embarrassment in Dunedin, will raise alarm for the visiting side, who will rate themselves better than they have looked so far. Perhaps with the series now gone, Pakistan could finally play with a bit more freedom.
New Zealand, though, will not let up, especially considering they arrive in Hamilton looking for an 11th successive victory across formats. It is a feat they have never achieved before but, with fast bowlers looking the envy of the world, batsmen in excellent touch and confidence to spare, Williamson could hardly hope to be in a better position to create history. His men can pace an innings well (as they showed in Wellington), can power-hit well (as was clear in Nelson), and can scrap in difficult conditions well (as Dunedin proved). With everything clicking into place, New Zealand are once again beginning to look like the side that reached the World Cup final in 2015.
All this spells bad news for Pakistan. The fire and fury that took Pakistan to their ODI zenith last year appears all but quenched. Their best batsman in these conditions, Azhar Ali, has arguably been the most clueless, while the middle order experience of Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez hasn’t quite come through. The bowlers, too, have struggled to make early breakthroughs, and it has often been left to Hasan Ali and Shadab Khan to peg New Zealand back. But by then, it has all been too little too late.
New Zealand: WWWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first) Pakistan: LLLWW
In the spotlight
If there’s one person in the New Zealand side who hasn’t quite hit the heights his team-mates have, it’s Tom Latham. The difference between his form at home – an average of 22.07 from 31 games – and away – 44.88 from 29 – is stark and it has led to questions over whether he is good enough to bat on pacy, bouncy wickets in New Zealand. To his credit, he did score a vital run-a-ball 35 at University Oval when other batsmen struggled to keep their strike-rates around 75. Nevertheless, he will want to put on bigger scores in the remaining two games to put those questions to bed, and with the series wrapped up, he could well thrive in low-pressure conditions.
Mohammad Amir has recently been the focus of largely unfavourable comparisons with Trent Boult over the last few days. While the New Zealand left-arm pacer has been consistently lethal over the last few years, he has not quite got the plaudits that are lavished on Amir from around the world. This series, however, he appears to have stamped his superiority, beating his Pakistan counterpart for pace, bounce, swing and penetrative threat. So far, Amir hasn’t shown the brilliance to justify the praise he attracts, but seeing a contemporary outclass him over the past week may sting him into action.
New Zealand may experiment somewhat in the two remaining dead rubbers. Matt Henry might come in, Lockie Ferguson could rest and Colin de Grandhomme, who has returned from Zimbabwe following the death of his father, may also feature.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Colin Munro/George Worker, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Tom Latham (wk), 6 Henry Nicholls/Colin de Grandhomme, 7 Mitchell Santner, 8 Todd Astle, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Matt Henry, 11 Trent Boult,
The head coach Mickey Arthur said Pakistan may change their batting order a bit, with Haris Sohail possibly coming in and one of Mohammad Hafeez or Shoaib Malik going out. Arthur also mentioned the possibility of the opening positions tinkered with. That could mean Azhar Ali dropping down the order, and Imam-ul-Haq coming in.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Fakhar Zaman, 2 Azhar Ali/ Imam-ul-Haq, 3 Babar Azam, 4 Mohammad Hafeez/Shoaib Malik, 5 Haris Sohail, 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt, wk), 7 Faheem Ashraf, 8 Shadab Khan, 9 Mohammad Amir, 10 Hasan Ali, 11 Rumman Raees
Pitch and conditions
Conditions are likely to be overcast in Hamilton, but showers are unlikely to interrupt the game. The pitch is expected to play faster than the one in Dunedin did.