Kane Williamson left for the United Arab Emirates knowing two things about playing cricket against Pakistan in the Gulf States: Australia have really struggled in recent weeks, but the last time the Black Caps played there, they enjoyed some moments of spectacular triumph.

The New Zealand captain in all three forms of the game, Mt Maunganui-based Williamson admits this is not going to be a comfortable assignment.

"It's a very tough place to tour because of the conditions. They are a bit foreign, certainly to some of the Western nation sides," he says.

The Black Caps tour comprises three matches in each of the game's three formats, starting with the first T20 international on Thursday. The third and final test is scheduled to end on December 7.

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But there's not much variety in the places they'll go; five matches are in Abu Dhabi and four in Dubai. Sharjah, the scene of an extraordinary New Zealand test win in 2014, is not on the itinerary this time as the ground recovers from the Afghan Premier League which saw 20 matches played in 17 days.

Williamson followed the two Pakistan-Australia test matches as much he could to get a gauge on what could happen when his team arrive.

"But saying that, there's so much cricket there now, there's every chance the wickets would have been used within the last month or so, so it's important that you prepare for the amount of spin you're going to be facing."

However, it won't have escaped the New Zealand captain's attention that the star of the Australia-Pakistan tests was a pace bowler, Mohammed Abbas.

The 27-year-old took an amazing 17 wickets in the two matches and now has 59 wickets in just 10 tests at a world class average of 15.64.

Most of the Black Caps won't have encountered him but Williamson has, and quite recently.

Playing for Yorkshire against Leicestershire in England's T20 league at the end of July, the Black Caps skipper blasted 77 off a Leicestershire attack that included Abbas. The Pakistan star may have finally claimed Williamson's wicket but went for 42 off his four overs.

Williamson will lead a Black Caps squad on this year's expedition that has a solid core of players from the successful 2014 trip. Tom Latham, Ross Taylor, BJ Watling, Tim Southee, Ish Sodhi, Trent Boult, Corey Anderson and Matt Henry were all alongside him four years ago, when the New Zealand team pulled off some of its best overseas results.

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The test series was levelled 1-1 after a dramatic third match which New Zealand won by an innings and 80 runs. Then the Black Caps came from 1-2 down in the ODIs to take the series 3-2.

Williamson scored 192 in the third test out of New Zealand's record total of 690. After that, he was Man of the Series in the ODIs with 346 runs across the five matches.

"That was an amazing tour for so many different reasons," he said before leaving, no doubt remembering how news of Australian batsman Phillip Hughes being killed in a match in Sydney while that third test was in progress rocked the sporting world.

Thought was given to calling off the match but it proceeded after a day's break and New Zealand completely outplayed Pakistan to record one of their biggest test wins.

"After that series, we had the one-day tour, which was quite epic. We managed to get across the line," he recounts in his usual modest and understated way.

So thinking about what happened four years ago is part of the skipper's planning for 2018.

"It's important we try and build on those experiences. The conditions are pretty similar, a number of guys have had those experiences, but we are in a bit of an unknown because of the amount of cricket being played there at the moment.

"In the white ball formats there, they do at times have lower scores, so it's a bit of a graft sometimes, trying to get through periods where guys are going to bowl straight and it's not going to bounce much and there's not as much pace.

"So you try and adapt to those conditions as best you can and maximise your opportunities. They've got guys who will bowl all day and be very disciplined and accurate and we have to replicate that with bat and ball."

He's taking a pragmatic approach to the loss of explosive opening batsman Martin Guptill to injury.

"Martin's world class in the white ball formats and it's a real shame to lose him so close to the tour. It's also one of those things in sport that you have injuries and you don't want to dwell on them too much.

"As a team, we'll look to fill that spot and crack on with what we have coming up in front of us. Any time a world class player is not in the squad, it's not ideal. But it's one of those things."

Even though Auckland's Glenn Phillips has been promoted from the New Zealand A team currently playing there, would Williamson himself consider opening the batting in the T20s and ODIs?

"To be honest, I hadn't thought about that. We'll address that in the coming days."

This tour is the start of a concentrated Black Caps programme which lasts through to the end of the 2019 World Cup in England next July. But then, it was early last April when the test series against England finished on a winning note in Christchurch.

Since then, players have scattered far and wide around the cricketing world, enhancing their bank accounts while playing in a variety of leagues and championships in places as diverse as England, India, the West Indies, Canada and Sharjah.

Despite the riches on offer playing for other teams, the Black Caps captain is enthusiastic about putting on his country's colours again.

"There's been a long time between drinks as far as international cricket is concerned. The guys are really looking forward to getting back involved with it."