Cricket: Black Caps gearing up for busy summer

By David Leggat

Black Caps captain Kane Williamson. Photo / AP
Black Caps captain Kane Williamson. Photo / AP

The picture isn't bright for New Zealand as they embark on a busy international summer.

It's been 31 years since they have beaten Pakistan in a test series; they have suffered heavy defeats in their last four tests; and now, ranked seventh, they face the world's second-ranked team who are coming off a strong run of form, not having lost a test series since 2014, and bidding to regain top spot. Now sit back and digest that a moment.

Add in Kane Williamson's toss record along with the green, grassy strip on show today. The imperative is to start this two-test series strongly. No pressure then.

''They're a very good side, who have shown they can adapt well all around the world," New Zealand captain Kane Williamson said today.

''They provide a stiff challenge, and that makes it exciting for us to come up against a strong side in our conditions."

Team news first. Pakistan know their likely lineup but were keeping schtum. New Zealand ducked naming an XI ytoday, Williamson reasonably pointing to the changing weather conditions as reason to keep their cards close.

There will be at least one new cap, Auckland opener Jeet Raval, while his provincial mate, Colin de Grandhomme would make it two if he heads off the challenge from Jimmy Neesham for the allrounders' role.

With coach Mike Hesson having confirmed legspinner Todd Astle will play his second test - four years after his first - one of Tim Southee, Matt Henry or Neil Wagner will drop out. Left arm swing man Trent Boult is a certainty.

You wonder at the confidence within the New Zealand camp. Being back home will help but they've taken some batterings of late.

Williamson wants them to regain their clear thought processes and positive attitude.

''It's important ... that we still try to play with that freedom and express our skills. When we do we play our best cricket. That will be the challenge for us."

He voiced confidence in Raval, who gets his chance on the back of a couple of strong domestic seasons, and gave his opening partner, Tom Latham a big rap, with a newcomer replacing the experienced Martin Guptill as his partner at the top of the order.

''Tom has for a while been considered a leader in this side.

''I'm sure he'll take on extra responsibility but continue to play with the freedom he's done for a long time."

Latham was New Zealand's one batting success in the Indian tests, scoring a half century in each match. He's averaging 38, and gets past 50 every third innings.

Latham and co can be sure of a searching examination from Pakistan's highly capable seam attack. The line on Pakistan under Misbah - whose 24 test wins from 49 matches in charge are easily a record for his country, 10 more victories than the great Imran Khan - is that they have become an immensely capable team in all conditions. The 2-2 draw with England in England recently is testament to that.

''Most of our players have been here before and know the conditions are different from what we are used to, so we need to make sure we bat with discipline, put good scores on the board," Misbah said.

''Then our bowling is very capable of performing well in any conditions."

New Zealand are happy to be home. How happy we'll find out in the coming days.

- NZ Herald

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