Cricket: Quest for top spot begins tonight

By David Leggat

The Black Caps' confidence is high after drubbing Sri Lanka at Eden Park. Photo / Jason Oxenham
The Black Caps' confidence is high after drubbing Sri Lanka at Eden Park. Photo / Jason Oxenham

New Zealand are good at keeping grounded, and insist they maintain an even keel through good and bad times.

If they want to know how well they're playing now, they could do worse than listen to Pakistan opener Ahmed Shehzad, who showered them with praise yesterday on the eve of the first T20 at Eden Park tonight.

"They are playing wonderful cricket at the moment," dashing opener Shehzad said. "We all know the style they are playing with is awesome to see."

Shehzad's record against New Zealand is good. He's averaging 38.58 with two centuries in 13 ODIs; and has scored 116 runs from 91 balls in four T20s, a strike rate of 127.47.

New Zealand hold no terrors for the 24-year-old, although he pointed out that's just what New Zealand are doing right now, playing with no fear.

"I think (Brendon) McCullum's done a good job. Now they have a good bunch which is doing their job together.

"If any side is playing good cricket we have to appreciate that, and try to match them. It raises your standards as well."

And that's the point at which Shehzad turned his attention to Pakistan. They must lift themselves and match New Zealand over the six limmited-overs internationals coming up.

"You have to execute your plans and flourish.

Cricket is moving fast, way too fast. We have a wonderful bunch. This is the best possible unit we have at the moment.

"It's a good combination of seniors and juniors and we're all pumped up and ready to give some entertainment."

Shehzad's talk of the pace of the game is bang on. T20 is the one form of the game where it's tough to overcome a poor start. There simply isn't time, and overs.

New Zealand had cracking starts, with both bat and ball, in the two wins over Sri Lanka. Their confidence is high.

Pakistan will test New Zealand in ways Sri Lanka couldn't. They will have more pace and batsmen who, while erratic, can seriously damage bowling figures.

They've also received a boost with the news yesterday that the gifted Umar Akmal has been released to play the game. He's facing a one-game ban over a clothing violation in the domestic first-class final recently. Akmal is appealing the decision and is free to play.

The young man can bat, but also has a penchant for getting out in daft ways. The good Akmal will be an asset, as will Mohammad Amir, who is making cricket's most talked-about comeback of recent years.

New Zealand are on a roll, Pakistan have lost five of their last six games - the exception a T20 tie with England in Sharjah on November 30. They have had a camp since then as preparation, which all regard as a success.

But camps aren't matchplay. Pakistan might be rusty tonight; equally they rate among international cricket's more dangerous outfits.

The winner tonight keeps alive chances of a 3-0 series sweep, and rising to No 1 in the T20 game. Call that a readymade incentive.

New Zealand v Pakistan, first T20, Eden Park, 7pm tonight

New Zealand: (from) Kane Williamson (c), Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Corey Anderson, Tom Latham, Grant Elliott, Luke Ronchi, Mitchell Santner, Todd Astle, Mitch McClenaghan, Adam Milne, Matt Henry, Trent Boult.

Pakistan: (from) Shahid Afridi (c) Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Saad Nasim, Sarfraz Ahmed, Shoaib Maqsood, Mohammad Rizwan, Aamer Yamin, Imad Wasim, Iftikhar Ahmed, Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz, Anwar Ali, Mohammad Amir

- NZ Herald

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