New Zealand v Pakistan
Saturday 2 January, 22:00
TV: live on BT Sport
New Zealand are bang in the hunt to contest this year's World Championship and stick two fingers up to the big boys - and perhaps the ICC themselves who probably didn't have the Kiwis in mind when designing the five-day game's showpiece.
Not sure why. There are few better balanced sides around than New Zealand and their pace attack, at least in home conditions, is terrific. They also have nerve, too. Kiwi sides of old may well not have had the gumption to prise out the victory with Pakistan hanging on grimly as the overs ticked by in Mount Manganui. But New Zealand got the final wicket with just 4.3 overs left.
Neil Wagner bowled despite two broken toes. Not surprisingly, he misses this match. Matt Henry is his replacement and he will be asked to be quick and hostile in short spells.
Possible XI Blundell, Latham, Williamson, Taylor, Nicholls, Watling, Santner, Jamieson, Southee, Boult, Henry
Pakistan have taken heart from making New Zealand fret in the final session. Well, I suppose it's better than being depressed about their first Test performance. Bar the last-gasp show of guts it was a pretty ordinary effort.
Perhaps they will improve for the run. The batsmen need to sort out - and fast - their techniques in seaming and swinging conditions. Considering they were in England only this summer they seem to have forgotten the importance of playing late.
Fawad Alam's second-innings ton was a victory for perseverance but few are convinced his awkward technique is capable of consistent big runs at the highest level. Lucky, then, that Babar Azam should be available. Their best batsman is fit after injury.
Possible XI Masood, Abid, Azhar, Babar, Fawad, Rizwan, Faheem, Yasir, Shaheen, Abbas, Naseem.
In the seven Tests played at the Hagley Oval, there is a three-three split on the toss bias with one draw. The first-innings scores in those seven (1-2 denote match won by side batting first or second, most recent first) read: 242-2/178-1/307-d/289-2/133-2/370-2/441-1.
India were bowled out for 242 and 124 there in February to continue a tradition of Asian teams struggling. Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have all been rolled. Only Bangladesh passed 250 in either first- or second innings. Only Australia have beaten New Zealand at the venue. Going under 250 for Pakistan in the first-innings could be a cheap lay. No rain is forecast.
Pakistan could get a grip
New Zealand are 1.384/11, Pakistan are 6.205/1 and the draw is 8.07/1. It is not surprising to see the home team so short.
Clearly we don't get involved in such numbers. Instead we have to consider the possibility that Pakistan, bowling first, could make cheap inroads into that New Zealand top order to allow a trade.
They actually managed that in game one, reducing the Kiwis to 13 for two. But that was as good as it got. Kane Williamson and Ross T aylor batted superbly in the face of disciplined Pakistan bowling. If the likes of Shaheen Afridi and Mohammad Abbas can repeat that form, they could be in business.
Babar is back and automatically installed as the 11/5 jolly for top Pakistan bat. We're looking further down the lists though because a big score might not be required. Faheem Ashraf topped down at No 7 in game one at whopping numbers. He is 14s. We still like Yasir Shah at 33s. Mohammad Rizwan is a bit mean at 11/2.
For New Zealand, Williamson is the 15/8 favourite. His 129 won him honours at Mount Manganui. But we're looking further down the order for the same reason. Pakistan could well do damage with the new ball. BJ Watling at 11s and Kyle Jamieson, who will soon be known as a genuine all-rounder, is a massive 75-1. He has 196 runs in his five-Test career (five innings) with one fifty.