Ed Hawkins previews the first Test from Mount Manganui on Christmas Day night with Pakistan's ace bowlers able to make a big dent on the odds...
"If they can bowl first and get bend and swing, they are more than capable of troubling the Kiwi batting. Just like they did against England in the summer in similar conditions"
New Zealand v Pakistan
Thursday 25 December, 22:00
TV: live on BT Sport
Kane Williamson returns to the Kiwi line-up after missing the final Test of the series against West Indies. They swept aside the Windies 2-0 and will expect a similar easy time.
The coming man is bowling all-rounder Kyle Jamieson. Jamieson, at 6ft 8, was awarded player of the series and he could mature into one of the most formidable players into the world. He balances the XI at No 7 and means the injured Colin de Grandhomme is unlikely to be missed.
With Jamieson firing alongside Neil Wagner, Trent Boult and Tim Southee the Kiwis possess one of the best bowling attacks in the longer format.
Possible XI Latham, Blundell, Williamson, Taylor, Nicholls, Watling, Jamieson, Santner, Southee, Wagner, Boult
Pakistan's players are dropping like flies. All-rounder Shadab Khan is the latest to pull out with injury after skipper Babar Azam and Imam-ul-Haq were ruled out.
Shadab has a hip injury but the loss of Babar is likely to be most keenly felt. He is their standout batsman. Mohammad Rizwan will lead the team.
Their strength is with the ball. Shaheen Shah Afridi and Mohammad Abbas have seam and swing covered while Naseem Shah will be used as a shock bowler. Yasir Shah is the only world-class spinner on show.
Possible XI Masood, Abid Ali, Azhar, Haris, Fawad, Rizwan, Faheem, Yasir, Abbas, Shaheen, Shah
This is only the second Test to be played at Mount Manganui. Last year England were beaten by an innings and 65 after posting 353 in the first dig. Since then, Northern Districts beat Otago batting first with a score of 335 in the first-class Plunkett Shield and New Zealand A hammered West Indies batting second after conceding 322.
There have been eight games from 2015 up that New Zealand-England Test. New Zealand and India A teams played out a draw with both busting 450 batting first. Northern Districts and Otago made 136 and 108 in first digs with the former winning by eight wickets. The 2016-17 Plunkett Shield competition returned first-match innings scores of: 417/151/269.
Pakistan need bend
New Zealand have lost only one of their last 11 series at home. And they haven't lost a Test at home since 2017. That's a record of 15 wins and three draws. It is a remarkable record. No wonder, then, New Zealand are no better than 1.384/11 to take a 1-0 lead. Pakistan are 7.206/1 and the draw is 6.806/1.
We are very down about Pakistan's chances of making enough runs to make this competitive - they struggled against the moving ball in England - but there is still a chance of them getting a foothold in the game because of that artful and brilliant bowling attack.
If they can bowl first and get bend and swing, they are more than capable of troubling the Kiwi batting. Just like they did against England in the summer in similar conditions.
Of course, Pakistan didn't have the nous or bravery to see it through in those 'bubble' tests so don't let the bet run. We could well see them trade at 3.02/1 with early wickets. No rain is currently forecast on each of the five days.
The top Kiwi bat market is competitive with Williamson 9/4 favourite with Sportsbook followed by run machine Tom Latham at 7/2 and the experienced Ross Taylor at 4s. Jamieson is 50/1. That is a price which will shrink significantly and quickly as he establishes himself as a genuine all-rounder. He will probably be going off at 14s this time next year.
Those hoping that the doughty Rizwan might be value for top Pakistan bat have had their hopes dashed. Sportsbook go 3/1 joint favourite for top Pakistan bat with Azhar Ali. With the top order vulnerable to being blown away Haris Sohail is underrated at 9/2 while Yasir Shah - highlight Jamieson's value is 33s.
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Ed Hawkins P-L
Based only on available prices. Does not include back-to-lay in-running match advice or commission rate. Figures 2013-2016 on 1pt level stakes. New points system (0.5pt-5) introduced for 2017. Includes Hawk-Eye stats column p-l & COB Best Bets