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Kiwis Favourites Against Unpredictable Pakistan

November 08, 2022 06:41 IST

IMAGE: Given how New Zealand have gone about their job so far -- except for the loss against England -- they look set to win their first World Cup. Photograph: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Pakistan are once again living up to their reputation of living on the edge.

A bad start nearly saw them exit the T20 World Cup in the group stages before they somehow survived a tense final day to progress after beating Bangladesh.

Social media was brimming with memes about Pakistan being the first team to qualify for Karachi airport after they suffered successive defeats to India and Zimbabwe. But a spirited Pakistan got the better of an in-form South Africa in a rain-hit match before the Proteas shock defeat to The Netherlands handed them an unexpected lifeline.

There was no looking back for a revived Pakistan as they cruised past Bangladesh by five wickets to seal their spot in the semi-finals.

For Pakistan, it has been a fresh start since that Zimbabwe loss. They thrashed the Dutch by six wickets on the might of their bowling before Shadab Khan and Iftikhar Ahmed smashed half-centuries to rescue them from the dead against South Africa.

Reeling at 43/4 it seemed game over for Pakistan,before a counter-attacking innings of 52 from 22 balls from Shadab and Iftikhar's stroke-filled 51 from 35 balls rallied Pakistan to 185/9 in their 20 overs.

IMAGE: After a slow start, Shaheen Shah Afridi has picked up seven wickets in two games to power Pakistan into the semi-finals. Photograph: Albert Perez/Getty Images

Pakistan's comeback has coincided with their best bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi getting back to his best after a slow start to the World Cup following an injury lay-off. His 3/14 was instrumental in flooring South Africa, who also suffered because of rain, while a fired-up Shadab bagged 2/16.

Afridi ripped through the Bangladesh batting line-up with 4/22 for seven wickets in two games after he took just one wicket in the first three games.

The Pakistan pace quartet of Afridi, Naseem Shah, Haris Rauf and Mohammad Wasim Jr are a lethal combo along with spin wizard Shadab.

Against the in-form New Zealand, if Afridi can get the dangerous Finn Allen early in the Powerplay, it could prove dent the Kiwis.

The other big battle could be between Kane Williamson against leg-spinner Shadab, which could decide how the middle overs go.

Glenn Phillips has made an impact in the middle and late overs with his attacking approach. Pakistan could try using someone like Haris Rauf against him, who mixes his length quite well in the death overs.

The batting remains a concern for Pakistan. Even though the middle order comprising of Iftikhar, Shan Masood and Mohammad Haris have chipped in with timely knocks, the openers have failed to fire.

The fact that Pakistan has made it to the semi-finals with two of their best batters not scoring runs must certainly worry their opponents.

The normally consistent Mohammad Rizwan has scored just 103 runs in five matches at a strike rate of 100, while Captain Babar Azam is going through a forgettable run with the bat, tallying just 39 runs in thE five matches.

The duo will want to rediscover their form, but their task won't be easy against New Zealand's experienced pace attack of Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Lockie Ferguson, who have made the new ball count in favourable conditions in Australia.

Though Boult hasn't picked up any wickets and gone for runs in the games against Ireland and England, Southee and Ferguson have chipped away at the wickets, with both taking seven wickets each in four games.

New Zealand have all their bases covered as far as their bowling is concerned with the spin combo of Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi doing well in the middle overs. ]

Santner has picked up eight wickets at an economy rate of 6.43, while Sodhi has six wickets at 6.78 respectively.

If the pace trio of Boult, Southee and Ferguson can get the breakthroughs in the early overs, it sets up things nicely for Santner and Sodhi to weave their magic in the middle overs. Except for Iftikhar and Masood, the Pakistan middle order has looked quite shaky, but New Zealand will need to watch out for dangerman Shadab, who is quite capable of scoring runs quickly.

The Kiwi bowlers will also do well to look out for young Mohammad Haris, who has made quite an impact since coming into the team as a replacement for Fakhar Zaman. He made everyone sit and take notice with his assault against South Africa's pacers Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje, hitting 28 from 11 balls, before scoring a quickfire 31 from 18 balls in the must-win game against Bangladesh.

With the bat, New Zealand will rely on Allen's power-packed approach to unsettle the Pakistan pacers in the early overs. The opener's attacking innings of 42 from 16 balls against Australia in the tournament set the tone for the Kiwis.

Allen boasts an amazing strike rate of 172 in 76 T20 matches and he will be one of the key players for New Zealand in the semi-finals.

The other opener, Devon Conway, who stroked 92 from 58 balls against Australia, seems to have lost a bit of momentum in recent games. However, Captain Kane Williamson's timely return to form is a big relief for New Zealand.

IMAGE: Kane Williamson's battle against Shadab Khan could prove to be crucial in the first semi-final. Photograph: Joe Allison/Getty Images

Williamson smashed a brilliant 61 from 35 balls against Ireland to set up New Zealand's 35 run victory after a run-a-ball 40 in the previous game against England.

Glenn Phillips is another player who has emerged as the force with the bat for the Kiwis, with a century against Sri Lanka and 62 against England, stroking his way to 195 runs at a strike rate of 163.

Daryl Mitchell has been steady, but big-hitter James Neesham's poor run with the bat cannot be ignored with scores of 0, 6 and 5 in the last three games.

Even though unpredictable Pakistan can be dangerous on their day, it can be safely said that New Zealand are better organised and clinical in terms of execution and hence could start as the favourites in the first semi-final on Wednesday.

Given how the Kiwis have gone about their job quietly so far, except for the loss against England, they look set to win their first World Cup.

Head to Head

Pakistan have a 17-11 win loss record against New Zealand in T20 Internationals.

They have done well against the Kiwis recently, winning four of the last five T20Is, including a five wicket win in the 2021 T20 World Cup in Sharjah.

Pakistan also hold a superior record against New Zealand in T20 World Cups -- winning four out of six matches.

Key Battles:
Rizwan/Babar vs Boult/Southee
Iftikhar vs Sodhi/Santner
Allen vs Afridi
Williamson vs Shadab
Phillips vs Rauf

New Zealand vs Pakistan, November 9, 2022, 1.30 pm IST.