All the Cricket World Cup action between the Black Caps and Pakistan.
The Black Caps can confirm a spot in the semifinals of the 2019 Cricket World Cup when they play Pakistan in Birmingham at 9.30 tonight. Niall Anderson runs through all you need to know – well, at least most of what you need to know - about the clash.
Hang on a minute, "confirm a spot in the semifinals"? I thought they were locked in?
Well, it would take a miracle, and even the notoriously cautious Black Caps acknowledge that they will be playing in a semifinal. But yes, there remains the slimmest of outcomes – New Zealand are currently $1.01 to make the semis - where they miss out. There are scenarios – as unlikely as they may be, where Sri Lanka, and one of Pakistan or Bangladesh can still overhaul New Zealand, but win tonight and those equations are erased. A win would also mean that the Black Caps would lock in a top three spot, with England being unable to catch them.
Does that matter at all – semifinal seeding?
Probably not that much. You'd imagine that the Black Caps would be underdogs regardless of their semifinal opponent, and there's not all that much differing the other three likely semifinalists. Perhaps India are the team most worthy of avoiding, but unless England collapse down the stretch and Bangladesh or Sri Lanka or Pakistan sneak in, the top seed probably isn't that important.
But what if it rains?
There is a reserve day for both semifinals, and Black Caps coach Gary Stead doesn't believe that weather will play a major part.
"People talk that you can be 1 or 2 and it can give you an advantage if it rains, I don't think it's likely to rain for two days, I think the weather looks like it's getting better, we just want to keep playing each game and hopefully get a W at the end of the game and keep improving."
This is all well and good, but aren't we meant to be talking about Pakistan?
Hey, you're the one asking the questions! But sure, Pakistan. What cliché would you like to use to describe them? Mercurial? Inconsistent? Unpredictable? The usual label still has some merit, considering they were routed for 105 by the West Indies, then bounced back to score 348 in a win over England. Losses to Australia and India were expected, and then they put another 300+ score on the board to beat South Africa by 49 runs – a far more convincing performance than New Zealand managed. They might be the easiest opponent left of the three remaining for the Black Caps, but they're still a big threat.
Which players should we keep an eye on?
Pakistan have a superb top three – Imam ul-Haq averages 54.9, Fakhar Zaman 48.8 (at a strike rate of 97.2) and the best of them all, Babar Azam, averages 51.2 and has made a start in every game so far. Add in Haris Sohail, who smoked 89 off 59 balls against South Africa, and some handy all-rounders, and if Pakistan's top order sets a platform, they can be extremely dangerous.
And the bowlers?
Well, one of the stars of the tournament has been Mohammad Amir, having taken 15 wickets at an average of 14.6. He's been a bit of a one-man band though, as this hilarious graphic shown early in their South African clash showed.
Wahab Riaz is still dangerous however, Hasan Ali could come back into the side, and Pakistan have two quality spin options in Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan, both of whom are likely to play tonight, and who could potentially restrict New Zealand's scoring rate.
Will New Zealand also play with two spinners? What does the wicket look like?
Some overnight rain in Birmingham meant it was under covers, but yesterday Stead got a look at the wicket – the same one which was slow and difficult to score on when New Zealand played South Africa at the same venue – and expects some slight differences.
"I've got a feeling it might be a touch quicker. The last game we played here, I think that was a little bit underprepared in terms of the time we'd had on the wicket, the surface was a touch soft, and that's why it gripped a wee bit – I think it's a bit harder now and the groundsman tells me it's a bit harder on his readings as well."
The other question – as always – will Colin Munro and Matt Henry keep their spots?
I'll fall back to the same answer…. probably? As I wrote this morning, this could realistically be the Black Caps' last chance to change things up. Promoting somebody this late in the tournament, in games against Australia and England, could be a risk, and one that the Black Caps might not be willing to take. I would say Munro is more likely to be dropped than Henry though, based on prior performances and indications.
This is getting long. Anything else to cram in?
Yes, I was curious as to why Tom Latham came out ahead of Jimmy Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme in the West Indies match – it seemed a bit conservative, in the 34th over – and so I asked Stead about it, but couldn't find room for it in any of my other stories. So congratulations to you, the lucky reader, as here is his response:
"James Neesham was just padding up at the time, as was Colin de Grandhomme, so we were discussing that, it was probably more likely to be [over] 38 or 39. We just felt on that wicket that there wasn't quite the pace on it that we wanted, and maybe coming in and whacking it from ball one might have been hard to do, so we still wanted some batsmanship, and Tom Latham came in and I think struck the ball pretty well from the start. You've just got to be careful you don't throw all your eggs in one basket, and then all of the sudden in the 40th over you're six down and you're struggling after that. It was widely discussed in the group but we thought it was the right [decision] still."
That's about enough of that. How can I follow the game tonight?
Radio Sport will have live commentary of the game, while we will be live blogging on nzherald.co.nz, where we will be first with any changes to the New Zealand XI, as the binoculars will be coming out during the Black Caps' warm-ups. Make sure to join us.